It was not until the Munich 1972 Olympic Games that the first official Olympic mascot, “Waldi”, the dachshund, was created. Since then, mascots have become the most popular and memorable ambassadors of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. An original image, the mascot has the job of giving concrete form to the Olympic spirit, spreading the values highlighted at each edition of the Games; promoting the history and culture of the host city; and giving the event a festive atmosphere.
(c) Photo Olympia Press
The Games mascots over the years have all been examples of ingenuity, imagination and artistic creativity. From “Waldi” to “Amik”, the Montreal Games beaver, the first mascots were emblematic animals of the host countries. In 1992, Barcelona surprised everyone with “Cobi”, a strange avant-garde dog created by the great designer, Javier Mariscal. Cobi was followed by a whole variety of mascots based on people, animals or even mythical and imaginary creatures.
From the dog to the snow leopard, via human-like ice cubes, the mascots lend an element of humour and joy to the Olympic experience. They contribute to the efforts made to offer a warm welcome to athletes and visitors from around the world.
On Saturday 26 February 2011, more than a million Russians participated in a live television broadcast, during which a vote was held to choose the mascots for the Sochi Games. The leopard got the most votes, followed by the polar bear and the hare; and these three animals from the Great North and the mountainous regions of Russia would become the mascots of the XXII Olympic Winter Games.
During the Games, tens of thousands of spectators were able to see the mascots, « Белый мишка » (Bieliy Michka, the polar bear), « Леопард » (Leopard, the leopard) and « Зайка » (Zaïka, the hare), but the most spectacular moment was doubtless when they appeared in giant format in the Fisht Stadium during the Closing Ceremony. They gathered in front of a cauldron where the Olympic flame was burning, and the polar bear proceeded to blow out the flame, while, simultaneously, the flame burning outside the Stadium was extinguished. The polar bear then shed a tear in a nod to the Closing Ceremony of Moscow 1980, where the mascot Michka also cried at the end of those Games.
The London 2012 mascot, Wenlock, takes his name from the town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, which still hosts the traditional Much Wenlock Games. These were one of Pierre de Coubertin‟s sources of inspiration for the modern Olympic Games.
According to the story by Michael Morpurgo, Wenlock's metallic look is explained by the fact that he was made from one of the last drops of steel used to build the Olympic Stadium in London. The light on his head is based on those found on London‟s famous black cabs. The shape of his forehead is identical to that of the Olympic Stadium roof. His eye is the lens of a camera, filming everything he sees. On his wrists, he wears five bracelets in the colours of the Olympic rings. And the three points on his head represent the three places on the podium for the medal winners.
Streets, parks and underground station entrances in London were decorated with 84 sculptures of Wenlock and the Paralympic mascot Mandeville standing 2 metres 30 tall and each weighing a ton, to help guide tourists during the Games. These sculptures were decorated by 22 designers to reflect their surroundings.
The mascots were chosen in a competition launched in 2008. More than 100 designers, artists and agencies submitted proposals. Wenlock and Mandeville were chosen from a series of designs which included a humanised pigeon, an animated teacup and representations of Big Ben featuring arms and legs.
The Vancouver Games mascots were creatures inspired by the fauna and tales of the First Nations on the West Coast of Canada. Quatchi is a sasquatch, a popular character from local legend who lives in the forest. He is covered in thick fur and wears boots and earmuffs. Miga is a sea bear, a mythical animal that is part killer whale and part Kermode bear. The Kermode bear, also called “Bear Spirit” lives only in British Columbia.
The Organising Committee launched a tender among illustration agencies and professionals to which 177 responded. Five designers were selected for a more detailed study of their creation skills. Finally, it was Meomi design that won.
Quatchi and Miga have a friend called Mukmuk, who turned out to be very popular, even if he was not an official mascot. Mukmuk was inspired by a rare and threatened type of marmot that lives only on an island in Vancouver. His name is taken from the word “muckamuck”, meaning food in Chinook. Though at the start he existed only virtually and on paper, later he too had the right to a range of products.
The five Beijing 2008 mascots form the “Fuwa”, which translates as “good-luck dolls”.
The mascots correspond to the five natural elements and, apart from Huanhuan, to four popular animals in China. Each mascot represents the colour of one of the five Olympic rings. Each also bears a wish, as it was traditional in ancient Chinese culture to transmit wishes through signs or symbols.
Beibei the fish is a reference to the element of water. She is blue and her wish is prosperity. The waves on her head are based on a design in traditional Chinese painting.
Jingjing the panda represents the forest. He is black and his wish is happiness. Porcelain paintings from the Song dynasty (960-1234 AD) were the inspiration for the lotus flowers on his head.
Yingying, the Tibetan antelope, represents earth. He is yellow and his wish is good health. Decorative elements from Western China appear on his head.
Nini, the swallow, represents the sky. She is green and her wish is good luck. Her design is inspired by those on Chinese kites. Swallow is pronounced “Yan” in Chinese, and an ancient name for Beijing was “Yanjing”.
Huanhuan symbolises fire and the Olympic spirit. His red colour transmits the passion of sport. Dunhunag grotto art inspired the decoration on his head, together with certain traditional good-luck designs.
Linking the five names forms the sentence “Welcome to Beijing” (Bei Jing Huan Ying Nin).