The 2018 Winter Olympics are finally upon us, bringing all the celebration, fanfare, and international competition you'd expect. The games are being held in PyeongChang, South Korea, and they're providing us all with some dramatic moments from athletes across the globe. And they're also showcasing one of the cutest Olympic mascots in recent memory, too ― if you're been wondering what the 2018 Winter Olympics mascot is, you should probably get better acquainted with him.
His name is Soohorang, and he's a white tiger with the Olympic logo on his belly. Tigers are significant animals in Korean culture, and white tigers in particular; the big cats are central in a lot of Korean mythology and symbolism. It's not the first time that one's been the Olympic mascot, either. The mascot was also a tiger the last time South Korea hosted the Summer Olympics back in 1988.
The name Soohorang has a dual meaning, when broken down into its parts. Here's how the official Olympic website describes the meaning of its white tiger mascot's name:
“Sooho”, meaning protection in Korean, symbolises the protection offered to the athletes, spectators and other participants of the 2018 Games. “Rang” comes from the middle letter of “Ho-rang-i”, the Korean word for “tiger,” and is also the last letter of “Jeong-seon A-ri-rang”, a cherished traditional folk song of Gangwon Province, where the Games will be held.
As you can plainly see in the photo above, Soohorang is pretty darn cute, the kind of Olympic mascot you could easily make into a squeezable plush toy. This might seem clear to the casual observer ― obviously, you'd want a cute, appealing mascot, right? ― but in recent years, it hasn't always been this way.
In 2016, for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the mascot was Vinicius, an animated amalgam intended to represent all the animals of Brazil. He was cute too, in his own way, but also distinctly strange, as he was a mixture of a number of different creatures rather than an easily identifiable entity.
In 2014, for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the mascot honors were split by three different animal characters: a leopard, a hare, and a polar bear, intended to represent the three Olympic medal platforms. The trio was decided by a popular vote by Russian citizens.
The 2012 Summer Olympic games in London saw perhaps the most controversial mascot in recent memory: Wenlock. Criticized and derided for his abstract and confusing design, Wenlock, a bottle-shaped figure, was intended to represent... well, it's a little hard to figure out what it was supposed to be by looking at it.
Here's how the Olympic website described it at the time.
Wenlock's metallic look is explained by the fact that he was made from one of the last drops of steel used to build the Olympic Stadium in London. The light on his head is based on those found on London's famous black cabs. The shape of his forehead is identical to that of the Olympic Stadium roof. His eye is the lens of a camera, filming everything he sees. On his wrists, he wears five bracelets in the colours of the Olympic rings. And the three points on his head represent the three places on the podium for the medal winners.
In short, when there's a possibility of ending up with an Olympic mascot like Wenlock ― or, perhaps, the hyper-abstract, cartoonish 1996 mascot Izzy ― it's easy to see why people are so enthusiastic about a more traditionally styled, fun character like Soohorang. His reign as Olympic mascot will continue into late February, as the PyeongChang games are slated to run through Feb. 23.