The Weird & Scary History of Winter Olympic Mascots

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Some of them are adorable. Some of them are atrocious. All of them are, on some level, creepy. They are the mascots of the Winter Olympic Games, and these are their stories.

1968: Schuss "“ Grenoble

It's fitting that the abstract character that represented the birth of the modern Olympic mascot became known as the Skiing Sperm. Schuss, the tri-colored unofficial mascot of the 1968 Winter Games, was depicted on pins and toys, but wasn't personified by a life-size plush character. Schuss's name was derived from an alpine skiing term for a fast and straight downhill run.

1976: Schneemann "“ Innsbruck

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The 1972 Winter Games didn't have a mascot, so the first official Winter Olympics mascot didn't debut until 1976. In addition to giving Austrian children nightmares, Schneemann, which is either German for "snowman" or "anthropomorphic snowball with a carrot nose," represented the games of simplicity.

1980: Roni "“ Lake Placid

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A live raccoon named Rocky was originally chosen as the mascot for the 1980 Winter Games—but he died. So the Lake Placid organizing committee turned to graphic designer Donald Moss. A freelancer whose illustrations had appeared in Sports Illustrated, Moss studied at the Pratt Institute for Design after getting out of the Marines and later claimed to have created ABC's logo. ("I never did get credit for that," he told the New York Times in 1979.) Moss and his son also designed the logo for the U.S. Ski Team and 11 stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. He agreed that a raccoon was a natural choice for a mascot for the Lake Placid Games. "The mask across its eyes makes it very similar to the mask and goggles and caps worn by Olympic skiers," Moss said. "And of course the raccoon looks cuddly, a kind of message you want to impart." Moss's raccoon, Roni, was named after Lake Placid's Adirondack Mountains.

1984: Vucko "“ Sarajevo

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Vucko, pronounced vootch-ko, was the wolf cub mascot of the 1984 Winter Games. A group that included Olympic organizing committee members, artists, a poet, and a sociologist narrowed the list of 870 potential mascots for the Sarajevo Games down to six. Vucko received more than 70 percent of the popular vote in the ensuing poll, which was conducted through Yugoslavia's major newspapers. The other finalists were a snowball, a mountain goat, a chipmunk, a lamb, and a porcupine.

According to the Sarajevo Olympic committee's official bulletin, Vucko was a symbol of the triumph of good over evil. "The happy Vucko is the symbol of man's centuries-old efforts to conquer nature, to gain friendship from a beast, to make a wolf become Vucko." Whatever it symbolized, the mascot became ubiquitous. "Grandparents used to tell stories of the wolves in the mountains around Sarajevo to scare children," a city official said. "Now, they fall asleep with Vucko in their arms. There isn't a child without one."

1988: Hidy and Howdy "“ Calgary

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Hidy and Howdy, whose names were chosen from more than 5,000 entries in a contest sponsored by the Calgary Zoo, were the first sibling mascots to represent the Winter Games. The brother and sister polar bears sported classic cowboy gear and graced signs and merchandise throughout Calgary in 1988.

A group of 85 high school students made appearances in Hidy and Howdy costumes in the years leading up to the Games, adhering to a set of rules developed by mascot committee chairman Lane Kranenburg. In addition to a rule that is common to most mascots—no verbal communication while in costume—one newspaper report indicated that Hidy and Howdy could not attend events where alcohol was served, stand near food serving areas, or hug anyone in a black suit. Hidy and Howdy, it would seem, had a shedding problem.

1992: Magique "“ Albertville

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The Olympic committee rejected Albertville's initial mascot, a mountain goat named Chamois, opening the door for Magique. Designed by French artist Philippe Mairesse, Magique was a star-shaped imp that signified youth, dreams, and imagination. "There's an old Savoy song, 'Etoile des Neiges' ('Star of the Snows'), and some people think it refers to that," an Olympic hostess told a reporter in 1992. "And the cap is like that of a young chimney sweep."

1994: Haakon and Kristin "“ Lillehammer

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Haakon and Kristin, a pair of figures from the great age of Norwegian medieval history, were chosen as the mascots for the 1994 Winter Games. Prince Haakon Haakonson was the son of King Sverre Sigurdson, who led the Birkebeiners during the civil war that ravaged Norway in the late 12th century. Princess Kristin was Haakon's paternal aunt. After the civil war and King Sverre's death in 1202, the rival Baglers were determined to kill the infant Prince Haakon. He was carried to safety across the mountains from Lillehammer and raised in nearby Trondheim, ultimately ascending the throne in 1217 and ruling until 1263. Three boys and three girls were chosen from 150 to personify Haakon and Kristin, respectively, for the two years leading up to the Games.

1998: The Snowlets "“ Nagano

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The original mascot for the Nagano Games was a weasel named Snowple, but he was replaced by four snow owls named Sukki, Nokki, Lekki, and Tsukki. Collectively, they were known as the Snowlets, a combination of the first letter, or letters, in each owl's name. Owls are often associated with Athena in Greek mythology, and the Snowlets symbolized the seasons and the four-year Olympic cycle. "Owls are cherished by people around the world as the embodiment of the wisdom of the world," one Nagano Olympics official said.

2002: Powder, Copper, and Coal "“ Salt Lake City

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The Salt Lake organizing committee chose three animals from Native American folklore to represent the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) for the 2002 Games. According to legend, the snowshoe hare once cooled the burning earth by running up a mountain and shooting an arrow at the sun, dropping it lower in the sky. When the earth was dark and frozen, the coyote climbed the highest mountain to steal a flame from the fire people. And no matter how hard they tried, hunters could not defeat the mighty bear. The names chosen for the three mascots—Powder, Copper, and Coal—were symbolic of Utah's skiing and mining heritage.

2006: Neve and Gliz "“ Turin

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Portuguese designer Pedro Albuquerque won an international contest sponsored by the Turin organizing committee and created Neve and Gliz, the snowball and ice cube mascots that represented the 2006 Winter Games. Neve is Italian for snow and Gliz is a shortened version of the Italian word for ice. Introduced 500 days before the Games, the duo was said to represent "the harmony and elegance of the movements made in sport" and, according to Albuquerque, "Olympic values like friendship, fair play and the spirit of competition."

2010: Sumi, Quatchi, Miga "“ Vancouver

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The mascots for the Vancouver Games are mythical characters inspired by the legends of the First Nations peoples of Canada. Sumi, whose name comes from the Salish term for "guardian spirit," has Thunderbird wings, the legs of a black bear, and the hat of the Orca whale. Quatchi is a sasquatch, a popular figure in Pacific Northwest legends. Miga is a sea bear, part killer whale and part Kermode bear, a rare species native to British Columbia.

There is a fourth mascot, but contrary to what a Polish newspaper and a Google image search would lead you to believe, it's not the Internet meme Pedobear. Rather, Mukmuk the marmot is the first Olympic mascot sidekick. He won't appear in Vancouver because marmots hibernate during the winter, but you can read all about him on the official Vancouver Olympic Games website.

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February 14, 2010 - 5:20am
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