The Weird & Scary History of Winter Olympic Mascots

The 1988 Winter Olympic Games' mascots were Hidy and Howdy.
The 1988 Winter Olympic Games' mascots were Hidy and Howdy.
Mike Powell, Getty Images

Some of them are adorable. Some of them are atrocious. All of them are, on some level, creepy. They are the mascots of the Winter Olympic Games, and these are their stories.

1. SCHUSS // GRENOBLE, 1968

It's fitting that the abstract character that represented the birth of the modern Olympic mascot became known as the Skiing Sperm. Schuss, the tri-colored unofficial mascot of the 1968 Winter Games, was depicted on pins and toys, but wasn't personified by a life-size plush character. Schuss's name was derived from an alpine skiing term for a fast and straight downhill run.

2. SCHNEEMANNS // INNSBRUCK, 1976

The 1972 Winter Games didn't have a mascot, so the first official Winter Olympics mascot didn't debut until 1976. In addition to giving Austrian children nightmares, Schneemann, which is either German for "snowman" or "anthropomorphic snowball with a carrot nose," represented the games of simplicity.

3. RONI // LAKE PLACID, 1980

A live raccoon named Rocky was originally chosen as the mascot for the 1980 Winter Games—but he died. So the Lake Placid organizing committee turned to graphic designer Donald Moss. A freelancer whose illustrations had appeared in Sports Illustrated, Moss studied at the Pratt Institute for Design after getting out of the Marines and later claimed to have created ABC's logo. ("I never did get credit for that," he told The New York Times in 1979.) Moss and his son also designed the logo for the U.S. Ski Team and 11 stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. He agreed that a raccoon was a natural choice for a mascot for the Lake Placid Games. "The mask across its eyes makes it very similar to the mask and goggles and caps worn by Olympic skiers," Moss said. "And of course the raccoon looks cuddly, a kind of message you want to impart." Moss's raccoon, Roni, was named after Lake Placid's Adirondack Mountains.

4. VUCKO // SARAJEVO, 1984

Vucko, pronounced vootch-ko, was the wolf cub mascot of the 1984 Winter Games. A group that included Olympic organizing committee members, artists, a poet, and a sociologist narrowed the list of 870 potential mascots for the Sarajevo Games down to six. Vucko received more than 70 percent of the popular vote in the ensuing poll, which was conducted through Yugoslavia's major newspapers. The other finalists were a snowball, a mountain goat, a chipmunk, a lamb, and a porcupine.

According to the Sarajevo Olympic committee's official bulletin, Vucko was a symbol of the triumph of good over evil. "The happy Vucko is the symbol of man's centuries-old efforts to conquer nature, to gain friendship from a beast, to make a wolf become Vucko." Whatever it symbolized, the mascot became ubiquitous. "Grandparents used to tell stories of the wolves in the mountains around Sarajevo to scare children," a city official said. "Now, they fall asleep with Vucko in their arms. There isn't a child without one."

5. HIDY AND HOWDY // CALGARY, 1988

Hidy and Howdy, whose names were chosen from more than 5000 entries in a contest sponsored by the Calgary Zoo, were the first sibling mascots to represent the Winter Games. The brother and sister polar bears sported classic cowboy gear and graced signs and merchandise throughout Calgary in 1988.

A group of 85 high school students made appearances in Hidy and Howdy costumes in the years leading up to the Games, adhering to a set of rules developed by mascot committee chairman Lane Kranenburg. In addition to a rule that is common to most mascots—no verbal communication while in costume—one newspaper report indicated that Hidy and Howdy could not attend events where alcohol was served, stand near food serving areas, or hug anyone in a black suit. Hidy and Howdy, it would seem, had a shedding problem.

6. MAGIQUE // ALBERTVILLE, 1992

The Olympic committee rejected Albertville's initial mascot, a mountain goat named Chamois, opening the door for Magique. Designed by French artist Philippe Mairesse, Magique was a star-shaped imp that signified youth, dreams, and imagination. "There's an old Savoy song, 'Etoile des Neiges' ('Star of the Snows'), and some people think it refers to that," an Olympic hostess told a reporter in 1992. "And the cap is like that of a young chimney sweep."

7. HAAKON AND KRISTIN // LILLEHAMMER, 1994

Haakon and Kristin, a pair of figures from the great age of Norwegian medieval history, were chosen as the mascots for the 1994 Winter Games. Prince Haakon Haakonson was the son of King Sverre Sigurdson, who led the Birkebeiners during the civil war that ravaged Norway in the late 12th century. Princess Kristin was Haakon's paternal aunt. After the civil war and King Sverre's death in 1202, the rival Baglers were determined to kill the infant Prince Haakon. He was carried to safety across the mountains from Lillehammer and raised in nearby Trondheim, ultimately ascending the throne in 1217 and ruling until 1263. Three boys and three girls were chosen from 150 to personify Haakon and Kristin, respectively, for the two years leading up to the Games.

8. THE SNOWLETS // NAGANO, 1998

The original mascot for the Nagano Games was a weasel named Snowple, but he was replaced by four snow owls named Sukki, Nokki, Lekki, and Tsukki. Collectively, they were known as the Snowlets, a combination of the first letter, or letters, in each owl's name. Owls are often associated with Athena in Greek mythology, and the Snowlets symbolized the seasons and the four-year Olympic cycle. "Owls are cherished by people around the world as the embodiment of the wisdom of the world," one Nagano Olympics official said.

9. POWDER, COPPER, AND COAL // SALT LAKE CITY, 2002

The Salt Lake organizing committee chose three animals from Native American folklore to represent the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) for the 2002 Games. According to legend, the snowshoe hare once cooled the burning earth by running up a mountain and shooting an arrow at the sun, dropping it lower in the sky. When the earth was dark and frozen, the coyote climbed the highest mountain to steal a flame from the fire people. And no matter how hard they tried, hunters could not defeat the mighty bear. The names chosen for the three mascots—Powder, Copper, and Coal—were symbolic of Utah's skiing and mining heritage.

10. NEVE AND GLIZ // TURIN, 2006

Portuguese designer Pedro Albuquerque won an international contest sponsored by the Turin organizing committee and created Neve and Gliz, the snowball and ice cube mascots that represented the 2006 Winter Games. Neve is Italian for snow and Gliz is a shortened version of the Italian word for ice. Introduced 500 days before the Games, the duo was said to represent "the harmony and elegance of the movements made in sport" and, according to Albuquerque, "Olympic values like friendship, fair play and the spirit of competition."

11. SUMI, QUATCHI, AND MIGA // VANCOUVER, 2010

The mascots for the Vancouver Games are mythical characters inspired by the legends of the First Nations peoples of Canada. Sumi, whose name comes from the Salish term for "guardian spirit," has Thunderbird wings, the legs of a black bear, and the hat of the Orca whale. Quatchi is a sasquatch, a popular figure in Pacific Northwest legends. Miga is a sea bear, part killer whale and part Kermode bear, a rare species native to British Columbia.

There is a fourth mascot, but contrary to what a Polish newspaper and a Google image search would lead you to believe, it's not the Internet meme Pedobear. Rather, Mukmuk the marmot is the first Olympic mascot sidekick. He won't appear in Vancouver because marmots hibernate during the winter, but you can read all about him on the official Vancouver Olympic Games website.

15 Historic Diseases that Competed with Bubonic Plague

Jan Josef Horemans, Interior with a surgeon and his apprentice attending to a patient (1722), Wellcome Collection // CC BY-NC 4.0
Jan Josef Horemans, Interior with a surgeon and his apprentice attending to a patient (1722), Wellcome Collection // CC BY-NC 4.0

In 1665, about a quarter of all Londoners died of the Great Plague—but bubonic plague was not the only deadly disease circulating in the city. A published register, called London’s Dreadful Visitation, or, A Collection of All the Bills of Mortality, recorded the causes of death and the number of victims in London between December 20, 1664 and December 19, 1665. The systematic, parish-by-parish tally reveals the rapid spread of plague throughout the capital: a total of one victim, recorded in the first week, increased to 7165 during the week of September 12-19, 1665.

But quite a few Londoners met their fates in other ways. Here’s a look into the antiquated diseases that managed to kill those that Yersinia pestis couldn’t catch.

1. Winde

Winde is listed throughout the Bills as a constant cause of death. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, winde referred to paroxysms of severe gastrointestinal pain, which could have been symptoms of numerous diseases.

2. Purples

Purples described purple blotches on the skin caused by broken blood vessels, indicative of an underlying illness, such as scurvy or a circulation disorder. It could also mean the most severe stage of smallpox.

3. Livergrown

People who died of livergrown suffered from an enlarged (or failing) liver. Doctors could diagnose it through the combination of other symptoms, like jaundice and abdominal pain. It was commonly a result of alcoholism, but could be caused by a number of disorders.

4. Chrisomes

Infant mortality was extremely high before the advent of modern medicine. The Bills distinguished abortive (miscarried), stillborn, infant, and chrisom deaths—the latter term specified infants who died within the first month of life, around the time they were baptized with special white cloths (which were called chrisomes).

5. Rising of the Lights

18th century illustration of lungs and heart
Jacques-Fabien Gautier d'Agoty, The Lungs and the Heart (1754), Wellcome Collection // CC BY-NC 4.0

Physicians and scholars have debated the origin of the term rising of the lights. According to the OED, the condition indicated any kind of illness characterized by a hoarse cough, difficulty breathing, or a choking sensation. Croup, asthma, pneumonia, and emphysema were all culprits.

6. Timpany

The condition of having serious swelling or bloating in the digestive tract, which produces a hollow sound when tapped, is still called tympany today. The sort that would have proven fatal to humans could have been caused by kidney disease, intestinal infections, or cancerous tumors.

7. Tissick

The term tissick, a corruption of phthisis, originated in ancient Greek and persisted through Latin, French, and English for thousands of years, only to end up an obsolete word referring to a “wasting disease of the lungs,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. In the 17th century, that could indicate the wheezing and coughing associated with asthma, bronchitis, or possibly tuberculosis.

8. Meagrome or Megrim

We recognize this obscurely spelled ailment as migraine. During the years of the Great Plague, any internal head trauma, from an aneurysm to a brain tumor, would be filed under megrim.

9. Imposthume

Imposthume was a swelling, cyst, or abscess, usually filled with pus or other putrescence. At the same time that it was being recorded as a cause of death, imposthume took on a metaphorical meaning and referred to an egotistical or corrupt person “swollen” with pride.

10. Head Mould Shot

In newborns, the bony plates of the skull are not fused together, which makes it easier to fit through the birth canal. Head mould shot described a condition where the cranial bones were so compressed by delivery that they overlapped (or overshot) each other and caused fatal pressure on the brain. Today, the condition, now known as craniosynostosis, is treatable with surgery.

11. Quinsie

18th century illustration of a woman getting her throat examined in a pharmacy

Quinsie, which evolved from a Latin word meaning “choke,” is still occasionally used in modern England. It describes a complication of tonsillitis in which an abscess grows between the tonsil and the throat. Unless the abscess was removed, a patient could suffocate from the blockage.

12. Surfeit

A surfeit means an excess of something. In the Bills of Mortality, it’s hard to identify the substance in question. Sometimes, as in the case of King Henry I and his lampreys, it can refer to overeating a food that becomes poisonous if taken in large enough quantities.

13. French Pox

When people across Europe came down with syphilis beginning in the 1490s, they blamed the French. (Perhaps they should have blamed Christopher Columbus and the Spanish, whom historians believe brought the bacterial infection back from the New World.) Rightly or wrongly, French pox is what the Bills of Mortality lists for deaths by advanced syphilis, whose symptoms included rash, blindness, organ failure, and tissue necrosis.

14. Bloody Flux

Dysentery, a.k.a. bloody flux, was common among densely crowded Londoners without clean drinking water. People contracted dysentery from food or water contaminated with one of several pathogens, and its main symptom was bloody diarrhea (the aforementioned flux) and severe dehydration.

15. Plannet

Plannet is likely a shorthand for “planet-struck.” Many medical practitioners believed the planets influenced health and sanity. A person who was planet-stricken had been suddenly maligned by the forces of particular planets. They would likely present symptoms also associated with aneurysms, strokes, and heart attacks.

The American Museum of Natural History Moves Its Great Canoe—for the First Time in 60 Years—to Its Revitalized Northwest Coast Hall

From left to right: Kaa-xoo-auxc (Garfield George), Jisgang (Nika Collison), Megan Humchitt, Haa’yuups (Ron Hamilton), and Chief Wigviłba Wákas (Harvey Humchitt) performing traditional ceremony before the move of the Great Canoe at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
From left to right: Kaa-xoo-auxc (Garfield George), Jisgang (Nika Collison), Megan Humchitt, Haa’yuups (Ron Hamilton), and Chief Wigviłba Wákas (Harvey Humchitt) performing traditional ceremony before the move of the Great Canoe at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
©AMNH/D. Finnin

The Great Canoe at New York City's American Museum of Natural History is one of the largest dugout canoes on Earth. Suspended from the ceiling of the Grand Gallery, it appeared weightless. Visitors entering from 77th Street may have assumed the canoe was built for the space, like the museum's massive blue whale model. But the real history of the vessel can be traced back 150 years to the Pacific Northwest. Now, as the artifact moves locations for the first time in 60 years, AMNH is working with First Nations advisors to strengthen the connections between the new exhibit and its past.

On January 28, 2020, the Great Canoe was rolled in a custom cradle from the Grand Gallery to the neighboring Northwest Coast Hall. Design elements of the Great Canoe indicate it came from the Heiltsuk and Haida nations on Canada's Pacific coast, but the identities of its builders and many other details of its construction remain a mystery. A group of representatives from First Nation communities in British Columbia kicked off the event with traditional song and prayer. They concluded the ceremony by circling the boat and blowing tufts of eagle down over it. The Indigenous representatives then explained the significance of canoes to all First Nations in the region.

"Canoes are absolutely central to the cultures of all the people who are represented here today," Nuu-chah-nulth artist and cultural historian Haa'yuups, or Ron Hamilton, who's co-curating the renovation of the Northwest Coast Hall, said. "All of our people made their livings not long ago in and out of the sea [...] From birth until death, our people lived in and out of canoes."

Moving the Great Canoe at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
©AMNH/M. Shanley

Even to cultures built around sea travel, the canoe at AMNH is exceptional. It measures 63 feet long and was dug out of a single Western red cedar tree. The body was carved in the 1870s, and it's possible that the orca and raven illustrations and the seawolf figurehead were added after its initial construction. AMNH trustee Heber Bishop acquired the piece for the museum in the late 19th century, and following a journey that included travel on a ship, train, and horse-drawn carriage, it arrived in New York in 1883. The Great Canoe was displayed in the Northwest Coast Hall from 1899 to 1960, when it was moved to the Grand Gallery where it resided most recently. January's move marks the boat's return to the hall after a six-decade absence.

The relocation is part of the museum's two-and-a-half-year revitalization of the Northwest Coast Hall. The exhibit includes hundreds of objects and nearly a dozen totem poles, all of which originate from the same general region of the world as the canoe. Like the canoe, the stories of many of these artifacts have been lost or misinterpreted over the years—largely because none of their original owners were involved in getting them onto the museum floor.

AMNH is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past with this new project. By seeking the counsel of 10 First Nation advisors, each coming from a different nation represented in the hall, the museum hopes to reflect their cultures in a rich, accurate light. "[Collaboration] is something we definitely try to encourage, specifically in relation to conservation," museum curator of North American ethnology Peter Whitely tells Mental Floss. "We really want it to be a participatory collaboration, because long-term, it's our responsibility to these communities to continue a pattern of mutual engagement."

Jisgang (Nika Collison), Haa’yuups (Ron Hamilton), Kaa-xoo-auxc (Garfield George), Chief Wigviłba Wákas (Harvey Humchitt), and Judith Levenson in the Objects Conservation Laboratory at the American Museum of Natural History.
From left to right: Jisgang (Nika Collison), Haa’yuups (Ron Hamilton), Kaa-xoo-auxc (Garfield George), Chief Wigviłba Wákas (Harvey Humchitt), and Judith Levenson in the Objects Conservation Laboratory at the American Museum of Natural History.
©AMNH/D. Finnin

Jisang, or Nika Collison, of the Ts'aah clan of the Haida Nation, spoke of her role as advisor following the canoe move ceremony. The museum sends her digital images of the artifacts being restored—that way, when she's home, she can consult with other members of her community and dig up context for each piece. "We get these great big files with these digital photos so you can go home and work with the carvers or the weavers that know things," she said. One photo she received showed a wolf mask missing its ears: "My brother was going through it, and he said, 'I think I found the ears,' because they were labeled as a separate piece."

The Northwest Coast Hall is currently closed for the revitalization effort, and in 2021, it will reopen with the Great Canoe in its new position suspended from the ceiling. In the meantime, advisors will continue working with the museum to update the collection. "We’re putting our treasures back together," Collison said, "because that’s the history of museums, that a lot of things came in without our knowledge to go along with it."

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