The supporters are lions holding Olympic torches and crowned with laurel wreaths. Lions have anciently represented at least three of the Home Nations, and have stood for the UK as a whole for many years – thus the combined British Isles rugby team has long been known as the British and Irish Lions. The laurel wreaths are of course an allusion to the ancient Olympic Games. A third lion in the crest emerges from a crown composed of discs (representing gold, silver and bronze medals) between relay batons; the latter are less a reference to the specific track team event than to the ethos of continuity, teamwork and shared responsibility.
Earlier versions of the design experimented with alternatives. At one stage the lion in the crest held, rather than a torch, four arrows – another reference to the four nations and the four years of the Olympic/Paralympic cycle, but also to the early role of archery as a Paralympic sport. Another option considered for the crest was a fox. This was a reference to the lines of the Greek poet Pindar who celebrated the skills of the champion athlete Melissus of Thebes by comparing him with lions and foxes:
"For when the competition is arduous his boldness is like that of roaring lions, but he is a fox for skill and cunning ..." (Pindar, Isthmian Odes 4.45-7)
Together with the lion supporters, a fox in the crest would have completed the imagery of Pindar’s poem on sporting prowess and made a reference to the Ancient Greek origins of the games.
Since it was clear from the outset that the design would be used in a wide range of contexts and media, while retaining a basic visual identity in all formats, high-quality heraldically correct digital artwork was produced at an early stage, even before the final content of the design was settled. This artwork was shared both with adidas UK and with Stella McCartney and her team so as to ensure the most suitable final design; the digital artist was Quentin Peacock of QxDesign, whose clean, elegant and heraldically precise work can now be seen in various forms on the Team GB kit and associated material.
When the design was finalized work could begin on the formal grant document, the ‘letters patent’ conveying the coat of arms to the grantee Associations. The work of longstanding College of Arms artist Tim Noad, the painting on the document closely follows the layout of the digital version but endows it with all the liveliness, vigour and subtlety of traditional heraldic artwork.
The result is an unusual and very successful example of close collaboration between old and new media in the rendition of a coat of arms. But there are of course many other styles and formats in which the new Team GB coat of arms can be represented and it is to be hoped that, in one form or another, it will see service for many Olympiads to come.