Several actions happen during the Olympic Games editions, summer and winter alike: The host city prepares with stadiums, venues, tracks and fields of play, sports villages and everything that is necessary to execute the competitions, and to give the audience a show. The opening and closing ceremonies are also prepared. On another take, each edition’s mascot is presented beforehand, these characters will join the image of each Games, and represent the starting point of a great business: The memorabilia sales of the event.
The Olympic mascots are usually animals, but also anthropomorphic figures representing the region where the Games will be held. Values and concepts are highlighted as they are attributed to the mascot, such as positive messages and promotion of the Host City – and by extension, the host country – to the rest of the world. In time, mascots have gained great relevance, not only due to the large number of licensed products that are sold, but also due to the connection they have to the audience, who have been called on several occasions to vote and participate in the design and naming of the mascots.
The first mascot in the history of the Olympic Games was presented in Grenoble 1968. It was a happy, smiling skier, dressed up with the colors of France’s national flag. From there on, we have seen a charming zoo populated by various creatures. Some have been very specific and in the shape of cartoony animals and figures, while other have been less defined and ambiguous. Some have had a massive success in sales and in people’s memories, like Cobi, the Barcelona 1992 Mascot. Cobi was created by the Spanish designer Javier Mariscal, and represents a cubist style dog, inspired in the Catalan Shepherd dog. It was a massive success in sales, as well as the Games, considered by most as the best Games in history.
Waldi, a typical Dachshund dog from the Bavaria region, is remembered with special love, maybe because it was the first mascot of the Summer Games. Although later, in spite of the initial enthusiasm, it was target for some complains, since there are five colors for the continents to be represented, and Waldi only had three, leaving out Africa and America.
Others, like Amik, the Montreal 1976 beaver, received hard criticism and adjectives like “dark”, “simple” and “non-original”. As for other mascots, no one ever really knew what Izzy was, the Atlanta 1996 mascot. Those Games were already crucified beforehand by most fans, who thought the Games should have been given to Athens, since it was the century anniversary of the modern Olympic Games. Under that light, there was no disposition to accept a mascot without a defined shape or backstory (the concept was a kid that used the power of the Olympic rings).
The latest Olympic mascots are Miraitowa, that arises from the japanese words Mirai (future) and Towa (eternity), and Someity, a character with great superpowers and tactile sensors. The Someity name arises from Someiyoshino, a Cherry blossom flower, and is mixed up with the English expression “so mighty”. The Tokyo 2020 Games will be celebrated amidst strict sanitary measures due to the world pandemic, so it wouldn’t be strange to see these mascots wearing face masks. Both characters, with a futuristic style and inspired by anime, were chosen in a vote carried out in thousands of schools from all over Japan, reaching a 70% coverage.
The Pan American Games quickly picked up on the mascot theme, and debuted in San Juan 1979 with Coqui, an autochthonous frog from Puerto Rico. In the list of Pan American mascots several animals and shapes can be recognized. Parrots, Marine Wolves, Ducks, a Manatee, and even a Sun in Río 2007, the first organizers to launch a popular contest ton name the mascot. Thus, the name Cahué was born, which is a greeting in Tupí language.
La Habana 1991 showed their smarts with the mascot’s name “Tocopan”, which is a mix between “Tocororo” (Cuban national bird) and the Pan American Games.
Toronto 2015 showed even more innovation: they launched a public contest aimed to children. Over 4000 proposals were received, coming from all corners of Canada. The winners were a group of students from middle school in Ontario. They created Pachi, a 41-spike porcupine, one for each country that participates in the Games.
In Lima 2019, Pachi’s successor was Milco, the latest of the Pan American Games mascots before Santiago 2023. The name Milco arises from cuchimilco, a clay-made statue that dates back to the 18th century. For several months popular votes were held, breaking the participation record in Toronto. And the tradition will go on, when during October and November 2023, a new edition of the Pan American and Parapan American Games is held in Santiago de Chile. The organizing committee is currently paving the way for the mascot’s creation, the image that will accompany over ten thousand athletes during the competition.