Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I've got Mascot Fever!

Meet the Fuwa, or for us Western folk the Friendlies. They are China's Olympic mascots-- Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini. But don't just take my word for it, watch this AMAZING cartoon depicting their origins!

Okay, so there's a fish, a flame, a panda, a swallow, and an antelope. But where do mascots really come from?

Let's take a look at Olympic mascot history, in all its glory. Let's start, as Julie Andrews would say, at the very beginning. It is a very good place to start.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Schuss.

Schuss is kind of freaky looking, and nobody knows what exactly it is. But, as the predecessor of all Olympic mascots to come, the freakishness is completely appropriate.

The word schuss means a fast downhill ski run. The character Schuss is apparently... doing that? I think?

Schuss was the unofficial mascot to the 1968 Winter Games at Grenoble. He is unofficial, as far as I can tell, because there was never any plush made of him, which is apparently the criterion to be an official Olympic mascot. Plush.

Anyway, some of the souvenirs from the Grenoble games featured his likeness, and when they sold well, some marketing genius got ahold of the idea and... voila! A new Olympic tradition was born!


Everyone, meet Waldi. Waldi, meet everyone. Waldi is the first official Olympic mascot (please note the plushiness). He was introduced to the world at the 1972 Munich games, and was totally not a part of all the suckiness that went down there. See, Waldi is more like the redemption of those damn games-- a message that yes, maybe the Olympics doesn't exactly solve everything, but at least we can give the world a little bit more adorable.

Waldi was modeled after a Cherie von Birkenhof, which is apparently a long haired breed of Dachshund. Because we all know Dachshunds are sherbet-colored.

Canada gives us our first round of Indigenously inspired mascots!

"Amik in Indian language means beaver," the International Olympic Committee's official website proclaims. Sometimes the IOC's politically correct message of international equality falls a little flat, but maybe they were just trying to reflect the general sentiment of the times, which was one of ham-fisted attempts at inclusion of other cultures.

Amik actually derives from the Anishinaabe language (which technically, yes, is an Indian language). The beaver was chosen as a mascot because it represents hard work and dedication and is also native to Eastern Canada. The image itself was only chosen, I imagine, because it was the 70s and crack was just what we did then, man.


1976 also saw the dawn of the Schneemann, which means snowman in what I'm sure the IOC would describe as Lederhosen language (it's actually German, as the games were held in Innsbruck, Austria). Save the most awesome name for the creepiest looking mascot, that's what I always say.

Schneemann holds the upcoming lead in Mascots: The Olympic Horror Massacre Bloodbath and is also grandpappy to Neve and Gliz of Turin '06. But wait up, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

1980: Misha the Bear

Misha was described as "the embodiment of kindness and strength, hospitality and sportmanship, nerve and calm."

Oh yeah. I can see how nervous and yet calm he is. Can't you?

The bear has "an independent character and confidence in its strength-- qualities essential for each competitor." Misha's full name is Mikhail Potapych Toptygin. This revelation, granted by the BBC, only leads me to ask more questions. Why does he have a middle name? Why is he so cute?

Cosmonaut Vladimir Kovalyonok even took Misha into space to the Salyut 6 Laboratory. Apparently, he's still there, hanging out in space.

The Moscow games also had a much less popular mascot named Vigri, the baby seal. He apparently was the mascot only for the yachting events.

Awwww, but look at how adorable he is! It's okay, Vigri, I'll always think you're the most adorable mascot of the 1980 Moscow Games, even if that bastard bear Misha gets all the credit. Oh hey, Vigri, you'll enjoy this-- we named our dog Misha.

Oh, he's even wearing an adorable little cap! I just want to hug that precious little Soviet propaganda tool.

Point of Inquiry? Not that I'm complaining, because this seal is seriously cute, but why did the yachting event get its own mascot?

Raccoon Tragedy Strikes
Meet Roni the raccoon, a last minute replacement mascot.

Roni's back story is actually the saddest of the bunch. The 1980 Lake Placid games was going to present Rocky the Raccoon, the first living mascot in the history of the Olympic games. Unfortunately, Rocky exhibited one of the disadvantages of living creatures-- he died. Right before the games.

And in the mad dash to create a new marketable mascot, corners got cut. At least, that's the only explanation that makes sense to me. 'Cause damn, that's one hideous raccoon.

Uncle Sam Meets Disney Meets the IOC
and they all have a party.

Sam the Eagle helped out when Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Summer Olympics. Designed by a team of Disney artists, Sam the Eagle does not quite exhibit the hideous conglomeration of cute and horrifying of, say, Schneeman. Sam the Eagle seems to be a little bit before his time in terms of marketability, simplicity, and overall aesthetics. But never fear, the hideous will return soon, in the form of...

Vucko! The horrifying Serbian wolf!

Cower and tremble before Vucko, the scariest mascot to date (including Schneeman, and I didn't think that was possible). He headlined at the Sarajevo Olympics of 1984.

Seriously, I think he wants to eat my brain. Or at least the hairs of my chinny chin chin.

Vucko was elected mascot by popular vote among the Yugoslav newsreading public. Which leads me to believe that the Yugoslav newsreading public were deranged.

The plush is not much better at all. Vucko wears a ribbon as a scarf and smiles his creepy-ass smile. Do you know what? He probably ate the Lillehammer mascots of '94 when they showed up wherever the retired mascots go.

The Seoul Olympics are GRRRRREAT!

The cute returns with Hodori, the mascot of the Seoul 1988 Olympics. As any great mascot should, Hodori demonstrates his favorite Olympic sport, which is apparently Rhythmic Gymnastics. You twirl that ribbon, Hodori, twirl it like there's no tomorrow.

In a nod to political correctness, Hodori was the first mascot to have a female companion. In a nod to political incorrectness, Hosuni never appears anywhere without Hodori, and appears to be nothing more than a slightly smaller version of the exact same image. Oh well, at least they were trying.

Canada Again Brings the Kitsch

Calgary's 1988 Olympics brought two more members to the mascot family. Hidy and Howdy, billed as inseparable polar bear siblings, they bring to the table much of what Canada is famous for: hospitality, oversized plushy costumes, hokey western wear, and incredible, blinding paleness.

These two were conceived by the International Mascot Corporation. I think, after you see the other Olympic mascot IMC is responsible for, you will join me in my international movement to condemn the corporation and all the plushiness it stands for.

Cobi the Cubist Catalan Sheepdog

Cobi is apparently based on Picasso's interpretation of Las Meninas. Really, I'm not seeing it. But Cobi did bring a certain simplistic adorability to the 1992 Barcelona games.

Although his appearance is unique and creative, his name is not. Cobi is derived from the acronym for the Barcelona Olympic Organizing Committee (COOB in Spanish). Come on folks! Naming the mascot after your own bureaucratic committee? LAME.

As far as I can tell, Cobi is the first participant in another fine Olympic mascot tradition: starring one's own nationally broadcast television cartoon, only he didn't make it onto TV until after the Olympics were over. So that's 10 points for longevity, but -25 for not doing your job and creating buzz, Cobi. Way to go.

Magique-- It's like Christmas in France

Say hello to Magique, a happy little Snow Imp from That Year When They Just Stopped Trying (also known as Albertville 1992).

Magique is kind of the replacement mascot, however, because the previously announced mascot (Chamois, a happy little mountain goat seen here) was "unceremoniously dropped two years before the games," according to the IOC.

Which is completely ridiculous, if only because everything the IOC does is ceremonious.

There's some speculation on the internet (and, like any good debate on the internet, it's coupled with some fairly pornographic images... I'm just warning you now) that Magique was chosen over Chamois because the theme for that year's ceremonies was Cirque du Soleil and the mountain goat just wasn't fitting in. Honestly, though, I think "fitting in" is the last thing on Magique's mind. He's probably preoccupied with his lack of opposable thumbs and the high fever that's turning him that awful pink color.

Hello Kristen, Hello Unpronounceable

Here are Kristen and Haakon, the first human mascots of the any Olympic games. They come from Lillehammer, Norway, circa 1994. It would normally be sort of creepy to have humanish mascots, but Kristen and Haakon are just so darn cute, I can't say anything else. Instead, I'll let the IOC website speak for me.

"Haakon and Kristin were two children from Norwegian folklore... There were also several pairs of real-life blond, blue eyed Norwegian children who, in keeping with the loveable mascots’ human form, portrayed them in-the-flesh and travelled the world promoting the Games."

Never mind. Still creepy as hell.


It's Izzy, the Whatzit, signifying all that is wrong, horrible, and evil in the world, and, you guessed it, another International Mascot Corporation brainchild.

Instead of poking fun at this atrocity, let me just quote to you Izzy's actual back story thought up by people who actually get paid actual money to do this sort of thing.

"With the first flicker of fire, the renewed Olympic Spirit energized a tiny spark within the flame. As the torch passed on from one Olympiad to the next, the energy became a force so powerful it created a new world, the Torch World, right there in the cauldron. The Whatizits, born of the same force, instinctively knew they were the 'keepers of the flame.' ... Only one, the little blue Whatizit named Izzy, had higher ambitions. He dreamed of leaving Torch World to participate in the Olympic Games on Earth. ... The rights of passage had to be earned by finding the five Olympic rings hidden in the center of Torch World, a rugged and dangerous region where no Whatizit had ever tread. Izzy encountered volcano eruptions, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, swift rapids, big dark caves, fire-breathing dragons, and other dangers, but valiantly emerged from his quest with all five rings."

I believe I'm not alone when I say... WHAAAAATT???? Atlanta '96, baby.

What, you haven't heard of Japanese owls?

While these Owls, named Sukki, Nokki, Lekki, Tsukki, and Bob, (no, wait, sorry, that's five) do appear to have been drawn by the commission's collective three-year-old daughter, everyone can agree that they are much better designed than some of the previous mascots. After all, at least that three-year-old had some color sensibility.

Not All Australian Animals Are Poisonous

The first games of the new millennium were held in Sydney, and Olly the Kookaburra, Syd the Platypus, and Millie the Echidna were there to greet everyone. They were friendly, happy, and a little bit too cartooney for some folks' taste. For example, since when to echidnas have breasts? Everyone knows they have milk patches and no nipples!

No, seriously, I looked it up.

Also, Platypuses have poisonous leg spines. So, you know, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

Salt Lake City: Bears Welcome!

We're bringing back the Native American legends, folks. Just a warning.

Salt Lake City's 2002 Olympics looked to the official Olympic motto ("Citius, Altius, Fortius") for mascot inspiration. Also Native American myths. But of course! From the IOC website:

Snowshoe Hare, "Powder" (Swifter): At one time, the sun was burning up the earth. The hare ran swiftly to the top of the mountain. Shooting her arrow at the sun, she dropped it lower in the sky and cooled the land.

Coyote, "Copper" (Higher): When the world turned dark and frozen, the coyote climbed the highest mountaintop and stole the flame from the fire people. He brought warmth back to the earth.

American Black Bear, "Coal" (Stronger): Long ago brave hunters left their villages to track the mighty bear, but the bear was too strong and outlasted the hunters. Today, sons of the hunters continue the chase [the bear] in the night sky.

Funny, they left out all the parts where Coyote gets horny. I wonder why.

Know Your Roots, Y'all

Athens 2004 knew how to kick it Old School. And by Old School I mean Bronze Age. Athena and Phevos are based off of ancient dolls or religious symbols from back in the back in the day.

Or, to put it another way, I kind of love the official Beijing Olympic website's description of them:

"The lovely mascots, Athena and Phevos, with their whacking feet, longish necks and puny heads, one in deep yellow and the other in deep blue, are based on dolls, thousands of years old, found at archeological sites in Greece."

Neve! Gliz!
Torino '06 saw a new breed of Olympic mascots: overly stylized crystallized water structures. But wait, I feel like I've seen this before, perhaps in 1976...

Neve is a "gentle, kind and elegant snowball," while Gliz is a "lively, playful ice cube."
They apparently reflect the many facets of Turin 2006: passion, enthusiasm, culture, elegance, and love of the environment and of sport.

Of course. I totally get that the snowball is elegant and the ice cube is concerned about environmentalism. Duh.


And now we're back at the present day. What a long, strange journey it has been. Remember, Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini welcome you to Beijing. They had better-- the first syllables of their names, when said together, mean "Beijing welcomes you" in Chinese.

After all, nothing says "Welcome" like a mascot.


UPDATE OMG: There have been other Olympiads since, so let's check over on those!

Vancouver 2010: Quatchi, Sumi, and Miga! A sasquatch, a thunderbird, and an orcabear. BFFs4 LYFE. (I freaking love these mascots. I have no qualms!)

Singapore Youth Olympics 2010: Lyo and Merly. Who doesn't love mythical sea creatures?

London 2012: Another ham-fisted attempt at allowing a marketing firm design your mascot.

Long Izzy quote from http://www.izzypins.com/history.php, an actual fan site for actual fans of actual Izzy pins. Really.
The photos came from a lot of different sources, including but not limited to the IOC official website, Beijing 2008's official website, the photos from a returned Mormon missionary, and various blogs across the internet. I'm not hotlinking any of them-- all the images have been downloaded and re-uploaded. If somebody needs me to find where I found them, just ask. I probably should have kept better track.
Barukh Hazan, Olympic Sports and Propaganda Games: Moscow 1980, Transaction Publishers.


Emily said...

I really want to go blow-by-blow and respond to each and every one of these, but mostly it would be incoherent giggling. So I'll just say wow to the Chinese Carebears and WTF is up with Izzy? Seriously?

Lex said...

Yeah, if Izzy were named today, I believe a more appropriate name is Fizzy, short for WTFIzzit? He comes from WTFTorchWorld, where apparently there be dragons, and collects rings and... this no longer makes an sense. Marketing team? FIRED.

Anonymous said...

Dude, China wins. Obviously. Also China has put in a billion more hours into those mascots than any other host nation. Obviously.

Oh, guess who's going to be in Beijing next month? Wouldn't go during the olympics because I don't feel like getting screwed, but I'll take lots of pictures of Olympic stuffs for you. Will be in Hong Kong in July, and I've already seen RIDICULOUS stuff coming out of there. Don't let the panda fool you, he has a gun.

I should note that the Korean tiger is actually wearing a traditional dancers hat, they twirl around that ribbon with their head. Pretty intense

Chance Wolf said...

C'mon. Vucko wins, paws down. I remember a commentator at the time looking at plushified Vucko doing mascot stuff at some event and describing him as 'carnivorous'. Others have just chosen 'scary', and have said variations of your "I think he wants to eat my brain."

Vucko was actually designed by a Slovenian rather than a Serb and was chosen via competition. The runners-up were a chipmunk, a lamb, a mountain goat, a porcupine, and a snowball.

Vucko's my favourite mascot. Even in '84 I cut him out of the paper and stuck him on the cover of a school binder. It's tough looking at him and comparing/contrasting him to the meth-inspired... objects... that pass as the mascots for our upcoming 2010 Winter Games. Their so unpalatable I'm sure even Vucko would turn his considerable nose up at them - with or without ketchup.

Lex said...

Dear Chance Wolf,

Yes it's true that Vucko is amazing. And terrifying. Terrifyingly amazing? It was a bold choice for the voters-- but then perhaps they wanted to strike fear into the hearts of their competitors? No better way to do that than with a terrifying wolf who probably devoured Little Red Riding Hood!

It's true, he could probably take Quatchi out with little to no difficulty. But I LOVE the Vancouver mascots more than I probably should. It's... it's a SASQUATCH. Cryptozoology!

Hope you keep reading, we're undergoing a revitalization here. Also feel free to give us a Canadian's perspective on how the 2010 preparations are going!

PianoKel21 said...


I am looking for an image of Schuss for a "Strangest Olympic Souvenir" slideshow we are doing on TravelandLeisure.com. I was wondering if I could have permission to use your image? We would be happy to provide photo credit and a link to your site. Please let me know at: kelly.bazely@aexp.com. Thank you!


Yarak said...

Sarajevo Respond;

Dear Blog Owner your posting and coments on VUCKO shows your "OLYMPIC" spirit, but that happent when your ignorance and racism hit in your head. Just to tell you all not SERBS or SLOVENIAN have invented or proposed VUCKO, it was men from Sarajevo and people of Bosnia who have chosen VUCKO as Mascot. I am originaly from Sarajevo and was child at time of Sarajevo 1984 Olympic and I WAS NOT AFRAID OF VUCKO; however I am living now in Canada and I am proud of Canadian Olympic mascots and I am very proud of our hockey team. To person who have created this blog just to tell you that I will foward link to your blog to IOC as well to Bosnian and Canadian Olympic Commitee as well to Google and report you for racism.

Eric said...

I've been surfing the internet for hours trying to find Misha. "What?" you say. Yes I did come across many of them, with olympic ring belts, but none like the one I own thats wearing a t-shirt with USA in red bold letters and a hockey player in action below.Has a white background with blue sleeves and velcro on the back that keeps the shirt on Misha. It seems to be a very rare item.