Select Page

This morning, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing unveiled its official mascot: Bing Dwen Dwen, a wide-eyed cartoon panda characterized by its crystalline suit of ice, piercing stare and love of winter sports. “Based on China's iconic animal,” Chinese news agency Xinhua writes, “Bing Dwen Dwen shows vitality of life through its modern design and sense of technology.”

Bing Dwen Dwen (accompanied above by Shuey Rhon Rhon, the lantern child mascot for the 2022 Paralympics) is undeniably cute and cuddly, somewhat reminiscent of Beijing’s cartoon representatives from the 2008 Summer Games. But with more than 50 years of history preceding it, how does the ice panda compare to the Olympic mascots of yore? 

Here are Ad Age’s picks for the 5 best and worst mascots from Olympic history:

The 5 Best

5. Beijing 2008

The 2008 Olympics had not one, but five mascots—the most of any Olympics in history. Peppered with symbolism, Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the “child of fire,” Yingying the antelope and Nini the swallow corresponded to the five natural elements and the five Olympic rings. Even their names were formed by repeating the Mandarin syllables for “Welcome to Beijing” (Bei Jing Huan Ying Nin). If the Olympics have taught us anything, it’s that symbolism can and has been overdone, but Beijing 2008 seems to have gotten it just right.

4. Munich 1972

A stylized Bavarian dachshund, Waldi the dog was the first Summer Olympics mascot in history, and a strong one at that (the concept of Olympic mascots had only been introduced four years earlier in Grenoble, France). Based on a real dog named Cherie von Birkenhof, Waldi was so popular at the 1972 Games, in fact, that the Olympic marathon route was shaped like a dachshund to resemble him. He’s a timeless mascot who has outlived many of his unremarkable, repetitive successors—and the perfect complement to Munich 1972’s classic logo.

3. Pyeongchang 2018

Soohorang is a white tiger, long considered to be a guardian animal in South Korea that has a prominent place in traditional folklore. As a tiger, Soohorang’s popularity was no surprise: the 1988 Olympics held in Seoul also featured an anthropomorphic tiger named Hodori. Soohorang is a friendly, refined, winter-themed version of his 1988 counterpart, and one of the few mascots who translates into a real-life costumed character with ease.

2. Sarajevo 1984

Vu?ko may best be remembered as a mascot, but the smiling wolf had a life long before his Olympic debut. Initially created as a cartoon that ran in Yugoslavian newspapers in the early ‘80s, his selection as the 1984 Winter Olympics mascot was a clear choice—the other finalists included a snowball, a weasel and a mountain goat. Shortly after the Olympics, war broke out in Yugoslavia, but Vu?ko and the memory of the Games endured as one of the last uniting events in a country that quickly split into seven.

1. Vancouver 2010

Created by Meomi Design, Quatchi the sasquatch and Miga the sea bear were inspired by the lore of First Nations indigenous tribes on Canada’s West Coast. Joined by their sidekick Mukmuk, based on an endangered marmot species, the mark this adorable Olympic trio left on Vancouver can still be seen around the city today. They are by far the most memorable of any of the Canadian Olympic mascots; the calm before the storm that was London 2012’s graphic design nightmare (more on that later).

The 5 Worst


5. Montreal 1976

We see what the designers were going for when they created Amik, the pitch-black beaver with a red stripe who became the 1976 Olympic mascot. But sadly, they fell flat. In some variations, like in stuffed-animal form, Amik could even pass for cute, but it’s the soulless, eyeless, blobby incarnations that have sadly resigned him to the waste bin of mascot history.

4. Moscow 1980

In his own way, Olympic bear Mikhail Potapych Toptygin, often shortened to “Misha,” was pure Soviet Union. In 1978, he blasted into space on a Soyuz rocket; his smile says, “I love having fun when the Party allows it.” Misha’s not objectively bad, but his home address is in the Uncanny Valley and the legacy of the Moscow Olympics certainly isn’t one that induces the level of happiness on his face.

3. Atlanta 1996

Dressed in oversized sneakers and gloves (yes, that’s it), Izzy, who was originally named “Whatzit,” is described by the International Olympic Committee as being neither a human, nor an animal, nor an object. It is just Izzy, the second-tier Saturday morning cartoon character who would be more at home on a bargain-bin VHS tape than on the field of Atlanta’s Centennial Stadium.

2. Nagano 1998

Four colorful owls, called “snowlets,” were the mascots for the two-week Nagano Olympics, and thankfully were not around for a second longer. Named Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki, the owls’ crude style could be forgiven if drawn by a kindergartener as their look suggests; it’s only when you realize that a top-tier design and branding firm (Landor Associates) spawned these beasts that the true horror sets in.

1. London 2012

By 2012, Olympic mascots had been well-established as warm and fuzzy characters, so when London 2012 unveiled Wenlock and Mandeville, the cycloptic Gumby knock-offs meant to represent both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, people were understandably a bit confused. “These phallic bugbears fitted out in foppish puffery are by far the worst mascots of any Olympics,” journalist Harrison Mooney wrote in The Guardian at the time—and tragically, the Games’ logo wasn’t much better.