Have you met Soohorang, the mascot of the 2018 Winter Olympics? The white tiger is everywhere in Pyeongchang, including on the podiums where medal winners get stuffed toy versions of the mascot. Soohorang is cute, cuddly, and perfect for merchandizing. In other words, this is a mascot that belongs in the Summer Olympics.
Unlike the Summer Games, which are the default Olympiad setting, the Winter Olympics are profoundly unnatural. All the events require equipment, and athletes often reach inhuman speeds. (Usain Bolt tops out at around 23 miles per hour, which would be extremely slow for a bobsled team.) The sports that don’t involve extreme velocity, like curling or biathlon, make up for their slothfulness by adding brooms and rifles. Like those accoutrements, the Winter Games are themselves inexplicably bizarre, and the mascots should reflect this.
The Winter Olympics have a storied history of being represented by odd and frightening monsters. The first-ever Olympic mascot appeared at the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France. Schuss, a bulbous tomato atop what appears to be a People’s Choice Award, was not officially recognized by the IOC at the time, but the squiggly guy willed himself, and the very idea of Olympic mascots, into existence. To initiate change you need to be provocative, and a fuzzy cartoon animal never could’ve scared the powers-that-be as much as Schuss did.
The next winter mascot followed Schuss’ lead, in that you wouldn’t want to come across it in a dark alley. Schneemann, the single-horned frost Krampus from the ’76 Innsbruck Games, was not a friend. He was a rotund clump of slush whose slow melt towards death was set into motion by the cruel hands of Walter Pötsch, his human creator.
The Winter Olympics aren’t supposed to be palatable. If the athletes were to compete naked like the ancient Greeks had originally intended, most, if not all of them, would freeze to death. Save the smiling animals for the fair-weather Olympians; winter mascots should tap into the cold recesses of the soul.
Just look at Magique, Albertville 1992’s mascot. This “star-shaped imp” lacked hands or feet, and his thin, ironic grin could’ve been a response to any number of things (none of them good).(Interestingly, Magique’s outfit looks like it was cribbed from Maggie Simpson’s star snowsuit from The Simpsons’ series premiere, which aired in 1989. J’accuse!)
Other legends in the annals of terrifying winter mascots include Nagano’s masterful Snowlets. Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki were supposed to be owls, but they looked more like the Babadook, which makes them perhaps the most perfect Winter Olympic representatives.
Likewise, Turin 2006’s Neve and Gliz were essentially winter versions of Slenderman, and they gave the games an appropriately foreboding feeling of ice-cold dread.
But just as the Summer Olympics occasionally stray onto winter’s scary, abstract turf (I’m looking at you, London 2012’s Wenlock), the Winter Games have frequently made the mistake of using fuzzy animals as mascots. Thanks to their cuteness, these furballs always seem out of place.
A real-life raccoon was used for the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, but he died shortly before the opening ceremony. While this was a clear sign to avoid animal mascots in the winter, it sadly went unheeded by the organizers of the 1988 Calgary Games. Hidy and Howdy, the valium-addled anthropomorphic polar bears chosen to represent those Olympics, would be more at home at an off-brand Saskatchewan amusement park than the world’s greatest showcase of cold-weather athletics.
While not nearly as cheesy as his Canadian counterparts, Soohorang is far too warm and welcoming for an event full of steel blades, rifles, and ice. Sooho, the first part of the Soohorang’s name, means “protection” in Korean, and that says it all. This tiger is certainly a safe choice.
The Winter Olympics will forever be the Summer Games’ goth little sister, and the organizers should embrace this. In Pyeongchang, the medal winners shouldn’t be given cute stuffed toys. Instead, they should be handed cubist tigers with razor-blade paws. That is the true Winter Olympic spirit.