Will Tokyo’s wacky 2020 Olympics mascots be the weirdest to grace the Games yet?
A look at the mascots of Olympics past suggests there is strong competition in the race for the oddest mascot gold
With the announcement that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be symbolised by any two of a nonplussed fox and sunburned raccoon, a rather cheerier go-getting fox and unsettling cat pal, or a pair of plaid-clad humanoids, it is clear that the mascots for the Summer Games are not getting any less weird any time soon.
Are they the oddest, though? A look back at the mascots of Summer Olympics past suggests not. At least they are keeping the crazy Olympic mascot design flame burning.
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Waldi, Munich 1972
The first official mascot followed on from the success of the unofficial Schuss at Grenoble 1968 and turned the Olympic colours up to 11 with this sweet sweater. Waldi is a dachshund, a breed popular in Bavaria on account of all those badgers (“dachs” is German for badger). It’s mere coincidence that Waldi is a sausage dog and Bavarians love sausages. The marathon course is said to have been in the shape of Waldi, which in a way makes him the biggest of all Olympic mascots.
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Amik, Montreal 1976
Amik means beaver in Algonquin, one of Canada’s native languages, and the beaver is the national symbol. These would be reason enough for it to be considered one of the Olympics’ more normal mascots, the cool Peru football shirt vibe from the red sash makes it arguably the coolest.
Misha, Moscow 1980
The only mascot to have both a full name and a date of birth, Misha also had a very snazzy belt. Misha was the only mascot in history to leave the closing ceremony via balloon, where he disappeared into the Moscow sky never to be seen again apart from on Japanese television.
Sam the Eagle, Los Angeles 1984
A rather Disney-fied take on the national animal of the US, the bald eagle, which makes a lot of sense as it was designed by a Disney employee. Strangely, the Eagle found itself into an animated series but it was not made by Disney. Instead, like Misha before it, this was a Japanese animation.
Hodori, Seoul 1988
A Siberian tiger cub with a traditional Korean hat placed atop his head at a jaunty angle, the South Korean mascot was perhaps the last traditional cartoon to grace an Olympics. As well as sporting the Olympic rings around his neck, Hodori’s hat had a ribbon in the shape of an S to represent host city Seoul.
Cobi, Barcelona 1992
While sometimes seen in a suit, the Pyrenean mountain dog (or Catalan sheepdog) was most often found in the nude. If that wasn’t weird enough then the fact he was designed in the cubist-style favoured by Picasso for a time was barking mad. His name was a nod to the COOB, Barcelona’s organising committee.
Izzy, Atlanta 1996
Dating back, with dating being the operative word, to the mid-90s Izzy was the first Olympic mascot to be computer generated and the first to fully embrace how mad designers could get. Izzy was originally called “Whatizit”, a name that would have been more appropriate.
Olly, Syd and Millie, Sydney 2000
Australia introduced a trio of mascots for the first Summer Games of the 2000s and while their names sounded like something you would hear the au pair shouting in Waitrose, they had good reason. Ollie (Olympics), Syd (Sydney) and Millie (Millennium, even if maybe it wasn’t mathematically speaking) were animals native to the host nation: an echidna (Millie), a platypus (Syd) and a kookaburra (Olly).
Athena and Phevos, Athens 2004
The least said about the brother and sister duo that represented the Athens Olympics and the worship dolls of Ancient Greece, the better. Critics were not kind, in fact they were unprintably rude. Thankfully, much like the Summer Games they represent, they have been largely forgotten in the ensuing years.
The Fuwa, Beijing 2008
China announced itself with five mascots, the most of any games, that were coloured to represent each of the Olympic rings. The Fuwa, or “good-luck dolls” were each named after one of the characters in the phrase “Beijing huangyingni” (Beijing welcomes you). As well as representing the five elements, four of the Fuwa represented animals in the form of a fish, a giant panda, a Tibetan antelope and a swallow, with the other symbolising the Olympic flame.
Wenlock, London 2012
Taking its name from Much Wenlock, the Shropshire town where the Wenlock Olympian Games, a precursor to the modern Olympics, are still held annually, Wenlock captured other elements of British culture and history. Both Wenlock and Paralympics mascot Mandeville were said to be made from droplets of the last steel girder from the Olympic Stadium and have elements of London taxis. Their eyes – they had only one each – were said to be cameras so that they could record everything and all of this madness was explained in a story commissioned from children’s author Michael Morpurgo. Sadly, other designs that failed to make the grade included a humanised pigeon, an animated teacup and representations of Big Ben featuring arms and legs.
Vinicius, Brazil 2016
Decided for the first time by popular vote, a method that will be used once again for the Japanese winners, Vinicius was a combination of all Brazil’s fauna. That meant monkey, bird and cat and manifested as this Pokemon version of Stretch Armstrong – his arms and legs can extend infinitely. Named after the poet and lyricist Vinicius Junior, his partner in crimes against mascot design Paralympic mascot Tom, a hodgepodge of all Brazil’s flora, was named after Tom Jobim who wrote the music for the poet’s words to “The Girl from Ipanema”. Vinicius the mascot featured in the Olympics themselves as it was plush figures of him that were thrown onto the mat by the coaches in wrestling events to contest calls. Needless to say the stuffed toy move didn’t go down well with everyone.