Discovering the Winter Games mascots
Animals, imaginary creatures and human beings: all have been mascots for the Winter Games, appearing as still and moving images, cuddly toys and life-size figures, to delight Olympic fans aged from 7 to 77. As Beijing 2022 gets ready to unveil its mascot or mascots, we take a look at the others created for the winter editions of the Olympic Games.
It was called “Shuss”, the little figure on skis in the position to which its name refers. The Olympic rings featured on the top of its large two-tone head, standing on one foot in the form of a zigzag lightning bolt. Shuss is historically the first Winter Games mascot, created for the 1968 edition in Grenoble by Aline Lafargue, who had just one night in early 1967 to design and present it to the Organising Committee. At the time, it was described not as a “mascot” but rather a “character”. It appeared on keyrings, pins, magnets and watches, and there was even an inflatable version.
There was no mascot in Sapporo in 1972, and the tradition officially began in Innsbruck in 1976 with Schneemandl, which simply means “snowman”. It wore a red Tyrolean hat typical of the region where the Winter Games were being held for the second time. It could be seen on t-shirts, as a cuddly toy and in a life-size version, with people dressed in costumes playing the role of “living mascots” at promotional events. There were also objects featuring Schneemandl holding a hockey stick or wearing skis. This practice of showing the mascot in different poses and playing various sports has become the norm.
In Albertville in 1992, there was “Magique”. A kind of elf in the form of a star symbolising the world of dreams and the imagination, with a pointy red hat and a pompom, in the colours of the French flag. This cute mascot was given an educational role: to inform the 7,924 Games volunteers, the Organising Committee opted for a computerised teaching programme. Magique appeared in the various teaching modules and games.
On the theme of snow and ice, Neve and Gliz (neve means snow in Italian, and gliz is a contraction of “ghiaccio”, ice) were the mascots for the 2006 Games in Turin. Neve was red with a snowball-shaped head, and Gliz was blue with a square head shaped like an ice cube. Together, they represented the fundamental elements required for successful Winter Games and personified winter sports. A cartoon of 52 one-minute episodes was broadcast on Italian TV channels RAI 2 and RAI 3 from October 2005 to February 2006. Each episode covered a subject linked to Olympism: values, territory, sport, etc.
For Vancouver in 2010, imaginary and mythical animals were chosen The first was Quatchi, a sasquatch (or bigfoot), a popular character from local legend who lives in the forest. He was covered in thick fur and wore boots and earmuffs. The second was Miga, a mythical sea bear, part killer whale and part Kermode bear. Quatchi and Miga had a friend called Mukmuk who proved very popular, even though it was not an official mascot. Mukmuk was inspired by a rare and threatened type of marmot that lives only on an island in Vancouver. Though at the start he existed only virtually and on paper, later he too had the right to a range of products.
Lillehammer 1994 was an exception to the rule: the mascots were children. Their names refer to historical figures from the 13th century whose destiny was closely linked to Norway and the Lillehammer region: Håkon IV Håkonson, King of Norway from 1217 to 1263, and Princess Kristin, his aunt. Håkon and Kristin were designed by Kari and Werner Grossman: “It was important that these mascots had a Norse or Norwegian connotation and that they were children,” Kari Grossman explained. “They not only had to express the Olympic Games, but also to address the questions of equality, the environment, Norwegian youth culture, behaviour and fair play.” Pairs of children dressed as Håkon and Kristin were hugely popular when they appeared at various sports venues during these Games.
Animals that live in snowy mountains have been the main mascots of the Winter Games. That started with Lake Placid 1980 and Roni the racoon. Schoolchildren from Lake Placid chose the name, the Iroquoian word for racoon, a familiar animal from the mountainous region of the Adirondacks where Lake Placid is situated. Part of his face and the black-and-white mask around his eyes were a nod to the sunglasses and hat worn by the competitors. The five colours of the Olympic rings can be found on some versions of Roni.
The 1984 Games in Sarajevo 1984 were accompanied by Vučko the wolf. Through his smiling, frightened or serious facial expressions, Vučko gave the wolf a rather friendly appearance and even helped to change the usually ferocious image of this animal. The wolf is a prominent figure in Yugoslavian fables: he embodies courage and strength and symbolises winter. Vučko was at the time the hero of a cartoon created by Nedeljko Dragić, published in several Yugoslavian newspapers.
An animal that has appeared several times as a mascot is the bear. In Calgary in 1988, the adorable Hidy and Howdy symbolised Albertan hospitality. The name Hidy was an extension of the greeting “hi”, and Howdy a contraction of “how do you do”, a typical greeting in the American West. The two bears wore Western-style hats and clothing. They had to be polar bears for Calgary, as they are active during the winter and do not hibernate. Howdy and his sister Hidy were the first pair of mascots.
Nagano 1998 presented the “Snowlets”, four owls named Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki. They represented respectively fire (Sukki), air (Nokki), earth (Lekki) and water (Tsukki). The choice of four mascots was a nod to the four years that make up an Olympiad. Their generic name, Snowlets, recalls the word for young owls, “owlets”. Children loved the multicoloured soft toy version of these Nagano Games mascots!
Four years later, animals from the Utah mountains were chosen for Salt Lake City 2002: Powder was a snowshoe hare, Copper a coyote and Coal a black bear. The names Powder, Copper and Coal were an allusion to Utah's natural resources, its snow and its land, and the animals often feature in the Amerindian legends handed down from generation to generation. The soft toys came with story books recounting the adventures of Powder, Coal and Copper in the snowy Rocky Mountains. Copper skied down slopes; Power got around on cross country skis; and Coal zoomed along on skates. And the readers’ imaginations took flight…
Three mascots were chosen for the 2014 Games in Sochi, as a nod to the three places on the podium. The female hare was created by Silviya Petrova, the polar bear by Oleg Seredechniy and the snow leopard by Vadim Pak. At the Closing Ceremony, giant versions of these mascots approached the Olympic cauldron, and it was the bear which blew out the flame. The Sochi Games mascots were featured on the new 25 rouble coin introduced in 2012.
Lastly, there was the white tiger, Soohorang, the dynamic mascot for the 2018 Games in PyeongChang. A year earlier, a cartoon watched more than a million times on video-sharing sites showed the mascot practising all of the 15 Olympic winter sports. “Sooho” means protection in Korean, and “rang” comes from “horangi”, the Korean word for tiger. Soohorang therefore protected the athletes, spectators and all the other participants at the Olympic Games. In soft toy form, thousands were sold. In its life size and giant form, it was one of the stars of the Games at the competition venues!