When I was about 11 years old I was in a geography class at school and, since it was the end of term, the teacher had decided we’d have a quiz. This quiz had two main parts.
The first, was to identify the locations of various cities. This could have been tough for a poorly-travelled child with a little over a decade on earth, but it was eased significantly by: a) a burgeoning knowledge of European football, b) a delight in being able to name all the Olympic host cities and c) a huge globe at my grandparents’ house (that housed booze, obviously).
The second part was built around identifying countries by their flags. To nail this one, Olympiphilia was more than enough.
It’s struck me ever since that a nerdy obsession with sport has various fringe benefits in terms of knowledge gained. A good handling of what kinds of names people have in different parts of the world for example, something that helps you take a decent stab a suggesting where an unknown Nobel laureate might have been born when asked to do so in a particularly fiendish pub quiz. And it gives you a decent grasp of the changing geo-political landscape too (”Well, the EUN team of former soviet nations competed at the 1992 games before any of the countries had a chance to set up an IOC, so I guess the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991?”). Again, useful in a fiendish pub quiz. Or to impress an immigration official on a date say.
And, of course, a deeply held love for global sport of any kind helps you get to grips with ALL OF THE FLAGS.
* * * * *
One of the things that tickles me when browsing historical line-ups Olympic finals (or other international sporting jamboree) is when the colours of the flags of the represented nations are matching. The symmetry of the same nation winning gold, silver and bronze for example. Or a whole load of crosses. Or stripes. Or, when everything is basically the same set of colours throughout.
I love it.
And I bet you do a little bit too (or you wouldn’t be reading articles explicitly about the nerdy details of the Olympic games, you’d be out riding a motorbike or shopping for trainers or whatever else it is normal people do with their time).
So here’s a question to ponder:
Has a final (with 8 or so athletes, I’m not researching every heat and qualifying round, I’m not mental) ever consisted of athletes representing countries whose flag offers an *entirely matching* colour scheme?
Let’s find out.
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First up, let’s define what I mean by this just so we’re all clear. I’m talking about flags who share the exact same colours.
The red, white and blue of the UK, the USA and France for example. Or Liberia, though it’s less likely.
So it looks something like this:
🇬🇧 🇺🇸 🇫🇷 🇱🇷
Or, more simply, the red and white of Poland, Denmark, Switzerland and Canada.
Which would be just lovely:
Got it? Good.
In the early days of ye olde modern Olympics, colour-schematic finals happened a lot. Not least because those three titans of the USA, UK and France – as noted above – share the same three colours on their flag and, at plenty of events at early games not many others were even trying to compete, let alone win.
So we’ll scoot on by those examples (thank you very much St Louis 1904) and see if we can uncover anything with a bit more ‘same-coloured-spice’ in the post-war era…
There’s a lot of ‘nearly made its’ (the kind of line-ups that originally piqued my interest). But the Germans 🇩🇪 – more often that not – and a clutch of successful Chinese 🇨🇳, Soviet era ☭, Brazilian 🇧🇷 and Italian 🇮🇹 athletes (or less often Spaniards 🇪🇸, Hungarians 🇭🇺, Swedes 🇸🇪 or South Africans 🇿🇦 / ‘the racist flag‘) pop up to ruin the red, white and blue fun (and yes, this IS fun). Cuba 🇨🇺, Norway 🇳🇴, Panama 🇵🇦 and Czechoslovakia 🇨🇿 (now the Czech republic) offer some nice alternatives to the ‘big three’, as well as the Dutch 🇳🇱, Australians 🇦🇺 and the New Zealand 🇳🇿 athletes.
And when we swill that altogether in a big pot of result-trawling we find success!
Thank god. I’ve taken time out from spending time with my son to write this.
So, by my reckoning there are three finals that have featured ‘colour schemed finals’ since the war, though two of them (both in 1948) are a bit of a fiddle. They are:
The fiddles come as the nations involved in the 1948 events were: Netherlands, UK, Australia, USA and Panama, whose flags all bore (and still do) red, white and blue. They also included Canada and Jamaica whose flags do not (though Canada’s red and white is still pleasing to the colour scheme). In 1948 both nations flags were yet to emerge into their independent designs, with both echoing Australia’s current flag as a clear subset of the Union Jack.
1956 however, and that men’s 100m backstroke, is the duck’s pyjamas, as it were:
3x Australians 🇦🇺
3x Americans 🇺🇸
1x Frenchman 🇫🇷
1x Brit 🇬🇧
Red, White, BOOM! 🎉
There are a range of other finals with red, white and blue represented in each competitor however including the ‘64 men’s 1500m, ‘64 women’s 100m, and ‘68 women’s 100m (where Poland broke the red, white, blue scheme), and the ‘56 men’s 1500m freestyle, ‘56 men’s 100m freestyle, and ‘64 women’s 100m backstroke (where Japan broke the scheme). The 2008 women’s 200m breaststroke, and 2008 men’s eight also fit the representation of these three colours with Canada and Austria joining the fun alongside fully schemed-up members Russia and Norway. But I do enjoy (I do, I really do. This perturbs my wife.) both the 2012 women’s 100m hurdles final and the 2008 men’s lightweight coxless fours where the red, white and blue were the only colours involved, but they neatly separate into groups in the final order. Most pertinently, the 2008 men’s rowing result delivered three medallists with only red and white flags (Denmark, Poland and Canada), which must have made for a particularly minimalist and well art directed medal ceremony. This is what happens when you let the stylish Danes win.
🇩🇰 🇵🇱 🇨🇦
Some final points…
While not a clean sweep, there are a few events where the top eight (or more competitors) flew the red, white and/or blue:
- ‘76 men’s pole vault (top 8)
- 2000 women’s triathlon (top 10)
- 2016 women’s pole vault (top 10)
- ‘48 men’s long jump (top 9, though all 11 athletes if you discount Argentina’s shining sun which you will refuse to do if you’re a better and less tired nerd than I)
And let’s finish on some special mentions:
- The 2000 women’s BMX competition had 16 competitors, 12 of which flew red, white and/or blue (with China, mostly red, Argentina, mostly blue and Hungary,… ugh).
- The 2008 men’s Keirin had only one competitor from the semi final stage that didn’t fly red, white and/or blue (a German, naturally) … well, if you can forgive the sun on the Malaysia flag. You can’t can you? Fine.
- Of 53 medals awarded during the 2008 games in Beijing to male swimmers, a stunning 46 were won by nations flying red, white and/or blue (China, Hungary, Brazil and Germany scooped up 7 medals in the wake of Michael Phelps and his colour-schemed brethren)
- All medals won in the women’s pole vault (which was first introduced at the Sydney games in 2000) have led to the flying of only red, white and blue on the podium… 🇺🇸 🇦🇺 🇮🇸 🇷🇺 🇵🇱 🇨🇺 🇬🇷 🇳🇿
Can you believe we got there? No, neither can I. But we did. And for that, we should all be glad.
Oh, and while this is of course all well and good for entertainment purposes (and yes, this IS entertaining), it’s really the brilliance of all colours at the Olympic games – well reflected in the flags from across the world – that make it the event it is.
Now, since that’s sorted, I wonder if the finalists in any event have ever finished in alphabetical order? Or age order? Or height order?
Please feel free to find out…
I looked at all Summer Olympic sports where a final event takes place between multiple competitors (i.e. shooting, weightlifting, cycling, rowing etc) but not the team sports, or any competition based on matches (tennis, badminton etc). I didn’t trawl through the Winter Olympics because it was quite sunny outside and it felt wrong.