Unveiled in June this year, Soohorang, the white tiger who will serve as the official mascot of the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, has already proved a big hit in his native Republic of Korea and beyond. His tour of duty so far has seen him travel the length and breadth of his native country, as well as putting in an appearance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The tiger in general, and the white tiger in particular, is closely associated with Korean mythology and culture. The tiger has been a familiar figure in Korean folk tales as a symbol of trust, strength and protection, while the white tiger is regarded as sacred, and as the guardian animal of the Republic of Korea.
These connotations are reflected in the Pyeongchang 2018 mascot’s name. Sooho is the Korean word for ‘protection, while “Rang” comes from the Korean word for tiger, “ho-rang-i.” It is also an allusion to “Jeong-seon A-ri-rang,” which is a favourite traditional folk song in Gangwon Province, where the Games will be held.
And, of course, the fact that Soohorang is white makes him the perfect choice as a Winter Olympic mascot. But the tiger’s symbolic significance extends far beyond the snowy colour of his fur. The importance of the tiger to Koreans cannot be understated.
Many locals consider that the Korean peninsula resembles the animal in shape. And the white tiger is also a symbol of strength and trust. Hence, part of Soohorang’s role will be to offer protection to all of the athletes and spectators at the 2018 Winter Games.
Soohorang is in fact the second tiger to serve as an Olympic mascot in the Republic of Korea. For the 1998 Olympic Games, which were held in Seoul, the official mascot was “Hodori”, an Amur red tiger.
In 2018, Soohorang will be joined by Bandabi, a black Asian bear, who will serve as the mascot for the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
“The mascots have been designed to embody the collective will of everyone for the successful hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2018, and experts of various fields contributed in the process,” says PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee (POCOG) President Lee Hee-beom. “The mascots will now spearhead our communication activities and marketing initiatives. With today’s meaningful step forward, POCOG will use the momentum to gain more public support and excitement for the Games.”