Updated 20 May 2010
The Olympic Games are a celebration of incredible proportions, held every four years by a host nation that has shown they can look after sporting competitors representing their countries from all around the globe. In more modern times, the hosts have also discovered that a symbol of their friendliness and the spirit of Olympic togetherness, can be represented by something a little more solid than just a philosophy. Thus, Olympic Mascots came into being. Often soft, cuddly and symbolic of the host nation, mascots are a comparative newcomer to the Olympic stage.
Birth of the Mascot
The first official mascot in the Summer Olympics made its appearance at the 1972 Munich Olympics in Germany. A small dachshund called Waldi was said to represent the fun and vibrancy of the Olympic Games. Before Waldi, the Summer Olympics held in Mexico City in 1968 were symbolised by an unnamed red jaguar. The 1972 Winter Olympics at Grenoble, France had Schuss the skier. Although the concept of a mascot for the Olympics is not entirely new, it was only towards the later years of the 20th Century that the phenomenon took hold. The Summer Olympics from 1972 onwards, with the aid of Waldi through to Izzy, have seen amazing success in regards to mascots, whilst others were best forgotten.
Munich, Germany - 1972
Waldi, a dachshund dog, popular in Bavaria, was a soft toy which was mostly blue but with pastel yellow, orange and green stripes. He was said to invoke the attributes required for athletes - resistance, tenacity and agility. Waldi was designed by Otl Aicher.
Montréal, Canada - 1976
Amik was a beaver, one of the national symbols of Canada. His name was taken from the Algonquian language, the most popular language amongst the Native Americans in Canada. Amik means 'beaver', the symbol of hard work. Amik was a small soft toy wearing a red sash.
Moscow, Russia - 1980
Misha (or to give his full name, Mikhail Potapych Toptygin) was a smiling Brown bear cub that held five Olympic Rings around his stomach on a belt that sported the rainbow of the five Olympic ring colours. Misha was designed by children's book illustrator Victor Chizhikov and was an immediate success, despite the controversy of the Moscow Olympics.
Los Angeles, USA - 1984
The mascot for the Los Angeles games was Sam the Eagle - a bald eagle, the animal emblem of the United States. Wearing the traditional garb of Uncle Sam - that is a red top hat and red waistcoat that bore the colours, stars and stripes of the American flag, he brought about the commercialisation of the Olympic Mascot. Designed by Robert Moore from The Walt Disney Company, Sam the Eagle personified the American Olympic philosophy in more ways than one.
Seoul, South Korea - 1988
Hodori and Hosuni were two tigers - common animals in Korean mythology. Their names were chosen from a list of 2,295 submitted by the public, and it was Hodori who proved to be the more popular. This friendly tiger wore the Olympic Rings around his neck much like a medal and sported a traditional Korean dance hat - both mascots were designed by Hyun Kim.
Barcelona, Spain - 1992
Cobi was a Pyrenean Mountain Dog that had a distinct 'cubist' style and represented the Olympics in Spain. The Barcelona Organising Committee for the Olympics had specially produced a television series for Cobi to communicate the spirits of the Games, and he proved to be a great success - animations of Cobi often present during the televising of events. Cobi was designed by Valencian artist Javier Mariscal.
Atlanta, USA - 1996
Izzy, an abstract figure whose name was changed from Whatizit1, had the dubious honour of being the first Olympic mascot to be designed by a computer. Not very popular, Izzy was a blue, insanely grinning and almost insect-like creature.
Sydney, Australia - 2000
- Olly: a kookaburra who represented the Olympic spirit of generosity.
- Syd: a platypus that represented the environment and energy of the people of Australia.
- Millie: an echidna that represented the new millennium.
An additional, and very unofficial, mascot of the Sydney Games was Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat. The brain-child of radio personalities Roy and HG, Fatso proved to be an athlete favourite2 and upheld the Australian spirit of humour in the face of adversity.
Athens, Greece - 2004
Athena and Phevos, brother and sister, were two modern children resembling ancient Greek dolls and taking their names from the god of light and music, Phevos - and Athena, the goddess of wisdom and patron of the city of Athens. Athena was dressed in deep yellow, while Phevos was in dark blue - and both had huge, welcoming grins. Athena and Phevos were designed by artist Spyros Gogos.
Beijing, China - 2008
Beijing has negated mascots in the traditional sense of the word, the five little characters created for the Olympics are actually called 'Friendlies'. Each not only represents an aspect of Chinese culture and the animals found within China, but also has an individual name, that when combined with their friends completes the phrase 'Beijing welcomes you'. They are:
- Bei-bei: a blue character representing a fish, and the mascot for water sports.
- Jing-jing: a black giant panda, and the mascot for power events like boxing and weightlifting.
- Huan-huan: a red character representing the Olympic Flame, and the mascot for ball sports.
- Ying-ying: an orange character representing a Tibetan antelope, and the mascot for track and field.
- Ni-ni: a green character that represents a swallow, and the mascot for gymnastics.
London, UK - 2012
In May 2010 the London Olympic organisers unveiled cartoon characters named Wenlock and Mandeville as the mascots for the 2012 Summer and Paralympic Games. Wenlock and Mandeville were one-eyed metallic creatures named, respectively, after the village of Much Wenlock in Shropshire - where a precursor to the modern Olympic Games was held in the 19th Century - and Stoke Mandeville hospital, birthplace of the Paralympic Games, and had a backstory written for them by children's author Michael Morpurgo.
Mascots are a fierce commodity, and host nations use them to not only promote their country but as a huge revenue earner. Stuffed toys, badges, pins, posters and all kinds of other merchandise with images of mascots on them are sold to not only athletes, but also tourists at the Olympics.