For over 50 years, Olympic athletes have often been supported by either furry, feathered, or slimy friends. The Olympic mascot (a cartoon-style encapsulation of the culture and history of the host city) is very important, and designs are often selected and completed many years before the Olympics are held.
According to the International Olympic Committee, the role of these eccentric caricatures is to spread the “festive atmosphere” and help embody the vibrant spirit of the event.
For decades, the world has welcomed snowmen, cowboy hats, and aliens to the Olympic stage. The first mascot was created by designer Aline Lafargue in 1968 for the Grenoble Winter Olympics in France. The character, lovingly named “Shuss,” consists of a two-tone head and lightning-shaped legs attached to the ski. Despite her holding the title of the first mascot in history, Lafargue created her design and submitted it to Shuss in just one night.
“Shuss” was created overnight. credit: International Olympic Committee
To find the right representative, each host country usually holds a submission call or contest. In 2014, Russia held the Games in anticipation of the Sochi Winter Olympics, and more than 24,000 lottery tickets were drawn. The winners, a trio of Arctic mammals aimed at representing the three spots on the Olympic podium, were selected by a general vote along with the results broadcast on Russian television. However, this is not always the case. At the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, Disney won a private bid for mascot design at one of the first corporate-funded Olympic events.
Character design is especially important when the game coincides with a unique moment in history. For example, Sydney, Australia, the host of the Millennium’s first Olympic Games, has commissioned three mascots for the first time in the history of the Games. The three anime-style cartoons, Syd, Olly, and Millen, are named after Sydney, the Olympics, and the Millennium. This groundbreaking game T-shirt is still available on second-hand resale sites.