I Long for the Days When the Winter Olympics Mascot Was an Abstract Monster

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 11:  Fans meet Soohorang the mascot during the Luge Men's Singles on day two of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Olympic Sliding Centre on February 11, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Soohorang is cute, cuddly, and perfect for merchandizing. Seems more like a Summer Olympics kind of mascot.
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

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.

People arrive to visit an exhibition on the Grenoble's Winter Olympic Games to mark its 50th anniversary, on February 5, 2018 at the Musee Dauphinois in Grenoble, central eastern France. / AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
Schuss, basking in a haunting glow.

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.

Undated:  The Official Mascot of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games for editorial use only. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport
Getty Images/Getty Images

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.

Turin, ITALY:  2006 Turin Winter Olympic mascots, snowball called Neve and her ice cube Gliz are pictured during the opening ceremony of the three Olympic Villages of Torino 2006, 31 January 2006.  AFP PHOTO  (Photo credit should read /AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images

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.

1987:  Portrait of 1988 Winter Olympic Games mascots 'Hidy' and 'Howdy' during the World Cup in Calgary, Canada. \ Mandatory Credit: Mike  Powell/Allsport
Mike Powell/Getty Images

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.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Gold, Silver, Bronze, Plush: The Winter Olympics Stuffed Animal Ceremony, Explained

Evgenia Medvedeva Is the World’s Best Skater and She Loves Dancing at the Mall

In Defense of the American Olympic Team’s Enormous, Fringed Opening Ceremony Gloves

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Nick Greene is a Chicago-born writer who currently lives in Oakland, California.