Every four years, the Olympic Games bring the world together as we all crowd around our TV screens to watch stories of heartwarming sportsmanship, impossible come-from-behind victories, and athletic dominance. Even if you’re not a sports fan, the games are an amazing event we all look forward to experiencing. How can you forget the Beijing Olympic’s opening ceremony? So while we wait for the games to officially kick off in Pyeongchang, South Korea, let’s take a look back at some lovable Olympic mascots.
If you’re having a hard time remembering previous Olympic mascots, we don’t blame you; there are a lot of them, and they’re often overshadowed by the other festivities and competitions. But each mascot is a tribute to not only the country where the Olympics are being held, but also the culture and longstanding traditions of the people that live there. To make memorizing the list of Olympic mascots even harder, there is often a different mascot used at the Paralympic Games.
Olympic mascots first appeared in 1968 at the Summer Olympics in Grenoble, France, and have become a part of all subsequent games since. This year, Soohorang, a cuddly-looking white tiger, is the mascot of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Mascots are familiar guests at sporting events here in the United States — think Mr. Met and Benny the Bull — but in Europe they’re not as common, so it must be nice for athletes to see not only their countrymen cheer them on but also a happy, energetic mascot, regardless of where they’re from. It truly exemplifies the friendship and solidarity the games are supposed to inspire.
Keep scrolling to meet the past Olympic mascots.
Olympics Mascots 2018 Pyongchang
2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea; Soohorang
For the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, the Pyeongchang 2018 Organising Committee went with Soohorang the tiger, an animal that is closely associated with Korean mythology and folk tales. The tiger is seen as a symbol of trust, protection, and strength; white tigers specifically are often depicted as guardians. Soohorang's white fur also evokes wintry imagery like ice and snow.
Soohorang's name is also especially meaningful. The Korean word "Sooho" means protection, calling to mind the protection offered to athletes, spectators, and other participants, according to the International Olympic Community. The word "Rang" is derived from the phrase "Ho-rong-i," which means tiger, and it is also the the last letter of "Jeong-seon A-ri-rang," a popular Korean folk song that is cherished in Gangwon Province where the games will be held.
Olympics Mascot 2016 Rio
2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Vinicius
The mascot of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games was Vinicius, who is a mix of many Brazilian animals. The name Vinicius is a tribute to Vinicius de Moraes, a poet, essayist, and playwright who lived from 1913 to 1980. Moraes, whose nickname was O Poetinha ("The little poet"), was a key figure in the modern Brazilian literature and music.
Vinicius the mascot was designed by Birdo Produções, an animation studio that took inspiration from pop culture, video games, and music. To determine who would be Brazil's mascot at the games, the public voted for either Vinicius and Tom (the mascot of the 2016 Paralympics), Oba and Eba, and Tiba Tuque and Esquindim. In total, 323,327 votes were counted, with Vinicius and Tom winning with a 44 percent plurality.
Olympics Mascots 2014 Sochi Final
2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia; the Hare, Polar Bear, and Leopard
For the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia presented three mascots: the Hare, the Polar Bear, and the Leopard. Prior to the start of the games, the Russian government held a national contest to determine what the mascots would be. An amazing 24,048 drawings were submitted, of which 10 were selected for the next round of judging. Professional artists went to work before revealing their final pieces to the public for one last vote. The Hare was designed by Silviya Petrova, the Polar Bear by Oleg Seredechniy, and the Leopard by Vadim Pak.
Olympics Mascots London 2012
2012 Summer Olympics in London, England; Wenlock
Wenlock, who is named after the English town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, was designed by Iris design agency. Much Wenlock is the home of the Much Wenlock Games, which are said to be an inspiration for Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee and the father of the modern Olympics.
The story goes that Wenlock was made from the last drop of steel used to build the Olympic Stadium in London, which explains his metallic look. The light on his head is similar to the light that shines on the top of the iconic London taxis, and the shape of his noggin mirrors the shape of the Olympic Stadium roof. He wears five bracelets; each one is a color of an Olympic ring. The three points on his head represent the three podium positions.
Olympics Mascots 2008 Beijing
2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China; Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini
We all remember the dramatic opening ceremony at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, so it's only fitting that the Chinese had not one, not two, but five Olympic mascots: Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini. Each mascot's name repeats the same syllable, which is a way that the Chinese express affection toward children. If you take a single syllable from each mascot's name (Bei Jing Huan Ying Nin), you form the phrase "Welcome to Beijing")! Together, the five mascots also form a "Fuwa," meaning "good-luck dolls" in Chinese.
Not only do the mascots correspond to the five colors of the Olympic rings, but they also each have a wish, as it was common practice in old Chinese traditions to transmit a wish through a sign or symbol. Designed by Han Meilin, four of the five mascots are modeled after popular animals. Beibei, the blue fish, symbolizes water and wishes for prosperity. The waves on her forehead mimic patterns of traditional Chinese paintings. Jingjing the black panda represents the forest and wishes for happiness. The lotus flowers on his head are inspired by paintings from the Song dynasty (960-1234 AD). Yingying, the yellow Tibetan antelope, references the earth. His wish is for good health, and the decorations on his head are a tribute to Western China. Nini the green swallow symbolizes the sky. She wishes for good luck, and her design is based off of traditional Chinese kites. Huanhuan's red hue is a symbol of passion. He symbolizes fire and the Olympic spirit.