Whether or not you’re a fan of the pantomime antics of anthropomorphic animals and other critters that just defy scientific categorization, costumed mascots are a time-honored tradition and embody the pride of a team or nation. So it’s surprising that the Summer Olympics—the holy grail of sporting events—never had a proper mascot until the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City: the Red Jaguar of Chichen-Itza and the Dove of Peace. Since then there’s been a number of mascots, some memorable and others we really don’t care to remember. Read on to see our picks for the best and worst Olympic mascots!
1) Sam (1984 Summer Olympics, Los Angeles)
The best kind of mascots are the ones that don’t leave you scratching your head in a vain attempt to figure out what it’s supposed to be. Sam the Olympic Eagle delivers in that regard and represents our nation’s patriotism in a playful manner. Many people are quick to say that Sam looks like he came straight out of a Disney cartoon, and they’re actually partially correct in that assessment as he was designed by legendary Disney animator Bob Moore. Representing the USA and, in spirit, Disney? That's a gold star in our book!
2) The Fuwa (2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing)
Famous Chinese artist Han Meilin had originally drawn 1,000 variations of the Fuwa to be considered as mascots for the Beijing Olympics before five were chosen to represent the games. Aside from having an anime-inspired design, all five are rife with symbolism. Each of the Fuwa’s respective colors represent the Olympic rings as well as the ancient culture and mysticism of China. Seamlessly combining so many symbols in one is no easy task, but Meilin really pulled it off (even if it was one of the more stressful art commissions of his career)!
3) Izzy (1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta)
We know what we said about indescribable mascots when we were talking about Sam, but naturally we were excluding Izzy. Having the honor of being the first computer-rendered Olympic mascot, Izzy’s design—to us at least—is very reminiscent of a ‘90s Nickelodeon cartoon character (coincidence?). And it doesn’t hurt that he’s associated with the 1996 Olympics, what many consider one of the greatest and most inspirational.
1) Athena and Phevos (2004 Summer Olympics, Athens)
You’ve probably seen these two amorphous humanoids during the 2004 Olympics in Athens and wondered what exactly they were supposed to portray. Your guess was better than anyone else in the world, but Athena and Phevos were stylized renditions of ancient Greek terra cotta daidala statues. The two mascots came under fire when litigious groups dedicated to the study and preservation of ancient Greek culture stepped forward and threatened to sue those responsible for the mascots’ design. They stated that Athena and Phevos were a gross debasement of ancient Greek culture. Wow, now that’s pretty bad.
2) Wenlock and Mandeville (2012 Summer Olympics, London)
It’s a shame that these mascots’ design left many baffled since their names are inspired by the villages Much Wenlock and Stoke Mandeville—hosts of an Olympic predecessor and the Paralympic Games, respectively. This symbolism is essentially lost on an overly modern and nonsensical design that is also meant to embody the United Kingdom’s Industrial Revolution. It would have made much more sense to use a knight or the British lion as a mascot as they better capture the UK’s national pride and are enduring icons of strength and a rich history.
3) Cobi (1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona)
Designed by artist Javier Mariscal, Cobi the Catalan Sheepdog wasn’t welcomed with open arms like most mascots that came before him. Due mainly to the Picasso-inspired style and the fact that he hardly resembled the animal he was intended to portray. But in a surprise twist, Cobi was a practical money-making machine that sold tons of merchandise slapped with his minimalistic visage and even starred in his own cartoon series. Why bother criticizing? Cobi’s probably too busy rolling in a pile of money to even read this article.
What Olympic mascot is your favorite?