Olympic rings tattoo a badge of honor for swimmers

Chris Jacobs brought home four marks of prestige from the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. The U.S. swimmer won two gold medals as part of the 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter medley relay teams and a silver in the 100-meter freestyle.

Jacobs also came back with an idea for a tattoo of the five interlocking Olympic rings, which has become a badge of honor for the elite swimmers who earn the right to represent the United States on the world stage. According to the New York Times, Jacobs got the idea from his Olympic competitors to the north:

Jacobs, who won three medals at the 1988 Seoul Games, admired the maple leaf tattoo on the chest of the Canadian breaststroker Victor Davis. On his way home from South Korea, Jacobs stopped in Hawaii to unwind and to get the Olympic rings tattoo near his racing suit line.

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The Olympic rings tattoo is generally popular among Olympic athletes, but the U.S. swim team takes it to great symbolic heights. Few U.S. Olympic swimmers are without the tattoo, and they rarely consider the pain of having a needle jam repeatedly into their skin or whether the mark will affect their ability to get a job.

The privilege of wearing the rings has become a goal tantamount to making the team. The 17-year-old swimming phenom Missy Franklin said the Olympic rings tattoo was one of her biggest motivations for making the Olympic squad.

"I've seen them on all the other athletes, and it's so cool," she told Reuters. "I've used it as my motivation, because it's the only tattoo I'm going to get."

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The tattoo has become such an honor that parents are willing to grant minors permission to get it done. Missy noted that her mom, a doctor, and her father, a business executive, not only approve but also think it's a good idea. "My parents are fine with it," she said. "They're just as excited as I am."

Even at least one grandpa approves. Conor Dwyer said getting the tattoo violated one of his grandfather Jim Dowdle's two maxims: no jumping out of airplanes and no tattoos. However, according to the New York Times:

After finishing second in the 400-meter freestyle at the trials last month in Omaha to make the Olympic team, Dwyer made his way to the stands where his relatives, including Dowdle, were seated and shouted, "Can I get my rings tattoo?"

Dwyer's mother, Jeanne, said her father stood up and replied, "Yes, and as for the rest of you, you can get a tattoo if you make the Olympic team."

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