American flag on U.S. Olympic Team logo has only 13 stars: Why?

Olympic Bureau

Something has been missing each time Michael Phelps and his teammates stepped onto the medal podium this week.


The U.S. Olympic Team logo — worn on all official team clothing, including the swimmers’ podium outfits — features an American flag with only 13 stars.

But it’s not a dig at you, Illinois. Or Florida. Or California.


Or any of the 37 states that entered the union after 1777.

When the U.S. Olympic Committee created the logo about six years ago, it chose to go with the 13-star flag because it would be too difficult to fit 50 stars cleanly onto the cookie-sized emblem. The decision was made after consulting with flag experts, who assured the organization that the U.S. government still recognized the fewer-starred banner.

“We use the 13-star, which is an official American flag, on our logo because of sizing,” said Lisa Baird, the USOC’s chief marketing officer.

Some sports, however, have the modern flag adorned on their individual uniforms. The U.S. wrestling team’s singlets, for example, has an American flag with 50 stars over the athletes’ hearts.

Despite becoming obsolete in 1795, the 13-star flag is still a legal flag in the United States, according to Kevin Keim, co-author of “A Grand Old Flag: A History of the United States Through its Flags.”

Congress passed its first Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777, when it decreed the official U.S. banner should 13 stars and 13 stripes. Nothing done by Congress over the next 239 years has stripped that flag of its status, Keim said.

In 1818, Congress passed another law — still in use today — that adds a star to the flag on the first July 4 after a state joins the union. But that act did not strip the 13-star flag’s status as an officially recognized banner, Keim said. The same holds true for the 15-star flag federal lawmakers approved in 1795.

“One can fly a 13-star flag and it still deserves the same respect that people would give to the American flag with 50 stars,” Keim said.


If anything, Keim said, the U.S. team’s penchant for wrapping themselves in the American flag — regardless of the number of stars — would technically be considered an etiquette breach.

“It wasn’t very long ago that people would have been offended to see athletes wrapping the American flag around their bodies,” he said. “But times and attitudes change.”

2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro


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