There is much buzz surrounding the Olympic Games, so it can be easy to forget that there is indeed a mascot. The Olympic mascot is different for each of the Games, and is chosen based on where the Olympics are taking place. This year is no different — there is a 2018 Winter Olympics mascot, and he’s really, really adorable.
Olympic mascots have not been around since the Games started. The first mascot was in 1968 at the Grenoble Olympics. The first official mascot, though, made its appearance in 1972, at the Summer Olympics in Munich. Olympic mascots are always fictional characters — typically either an animal that is native to the country where the Games are taking place, or a human figure who represents that country.
This year’s mascot is no exception. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board approved the 2018 Winter Olympics mascot back in the summer of 2016: a white tiger named “Soohorang.” A white tiger was selected based on the location of the games in PyeongChang, because white tigers are associated with Korean mythology and culture. The IOC said:
In Korean mythology, the white tiger was seen as a guardian who protected the country. The white coloring also has a connection to the snow and ice that is such a significant part of winter sports.
The animal isn’t the only part of the mascot with meaning. According to the IOC, the name “Soohorang” has meaning too. “Soohoo” is the Korean word for “protection.” “Rang” comes from the Korean word “ho-rang-i,” which means tiger. “Rang” is also in “Jeongseon Arirang,” which is the traditional folk music present in part of PyeongChang.
The IOC is pretty happy with the choice. Member Gunilla Lindberg, the Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, said of the white tiger: “It’s a beautiful animal, strongly associated with Korean culture. It also symbolizes the close link between the Olympic Winter Games and the natural environment. I’m sure the new mascot will be very popular with Koreans and people around the world.”
Soohorang is the only official mascot for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but if you’ve seen photos of him, you’ve probably seen him next to a black bear (named Bandabi). Many people assume that bear is also a mascot, and he is — but for the 2018 Paralympic Games.
Bandabi has his own cultural significance. He’s based on the Asiatic black bear, another important figure in Korean folklore. The bear symbolizes courage and strong will, and is a symbolic animal in the Gangwon Province, where PyeongChang is located. Together, they’re pretty much the cutest mascots ever, so make sure to look out for them at the Games.