A close-up photo captures the bewildered expression on an athlete's face as they receive a gold medal alongside a stuffed animal, questioning the unexpected combination at the Olympics.

The tradition of handing out stuffed animal mascots at the Olympics has delighted athletes and spectators alike for decades. If you’re wondering why Olympians receive cuddly toys on the podium, read on to learn the history behind this beloved ritual.

If you don’t have time for the full story, here’s the quick answer: Stuffed animals are given out at the Olympics as collectible souvenirs and to reward athletes for earning medals. The tradition started at the 1976 Montreal Olympics with the toy version of mascot Amik the beaver, and has carried on at every Games since as a way to spread the Olympic spirit.

The Origin Story of Olympics Stuffed Animals

Amik the Beaver Kicks Things Off

The tradition of Olympics mascots began in 1968 at the Grenoble Winter Olympics. A friendly beaver named Amik was chosen as the first official mascot. Amik was a nod to the historical importance of beavers in the Grenoble area and their link to the local timber trade.

Plush Amik toys became hugely popular with fans, kicking off a new Olympic tradition.

In 1972, the Munich Summer Games introduced the first Olympic mascot based on an animal not native to the host country. Waldi the Dachshund represented the traits of resilience and determination. His success cemented the concept of Olympics mascots as marketable souvenirs.

Over 200,000 Waldi stuffed animals were sold during the Munich Games.

Mascots Become Highly Collectible

Today, producing special Olympic mascots is standard practice. Popular recent examples include Miga, Quatchi, and Mukmuk from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Sochi 2014 featured a smiling Hare, Polar Bear, and Leopard. And Tokyo 2020 offered the tech-inspired felines Miraitowa and Someity.

These mascots appear across a wide range of Olympics merchandise. However, stuffed animals remain among the most sought-after items. For example, when Wenlock and Mandeville, the mascots from London 2012, were released as plush toys they were being listed on eBay for over $2,500 just days afterward due to demand.

The market for Olympics mascot plushies is fueled by their status as unique collectibles. Limited edition versions often sell out completely. According to NBC Sports, the production run for recent mascots is generally around 1.5 million stuffed animals.

Although significant, this pales in comparison to the potential global interest of billions of Olympics viewers.

As the Olympics continue to capture the world’s attention every two years, the tradition of mascot stuffed animals is sure to carry on. These cuddly creatures have become an iconic symbol of Olympic spirit and global harmony.

The Significance of the Stuffed Toys for Athletes

A Cherished Symbol of Olympic Glory

The tradition of handing out stuffed mascot toys to gold medalists at the Olympics began at the 1976 Montreal Games. Since then, these cuddly creatures have become a cherished symbol of athletes’ hard-won glory.

Winning an Olympic gold medal represents the pinnacle of athletic achievement. For many competitors, it is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream requiring years of intense training and sacrifice. Receiving one of the limited-edition stuffed mascots is like capturing this magical moment in plush form – a tangible reminder they can cuddle for years to come.

The toys also serve as a medal stand-in during events and photoshoots when competitors cannot wear their medals for practical reasons. Gripping a stuffed mascot allows champions to pose with their hands free while conveying their Olympic success.

Must-Have Memorabilia

The stuffed toys handed out at medal ceremonies quickly become hot commodities and highly desirable memorabilia for competitors and collectors alike.

Their limited availability – only 200-300 are produced for gold medalists in each Olympic sport event – makes them exclusive keepsakes. Well-known medal winners often take photos hugging their new plush partners to post on social media, showing off their new furry friends.

Most competitors keep their mascot toys for years. Displaying them is a badge of honor within Olympic circles and a way for athletes to reminisce about the pinnacle of their careers. The toys’ cute faces recall the exhilaration of standing on top of the podium.

For serious Olympic memorabilia collectors, the stuffed mascots command steep prices at auction. A recent listing had a Mint Vintage 1980 Moscow Olympics Misha Bear selling for $3,500. As the cuddly embodiments of Olympic glory for top athletes, their nostalgic significance carries real market value.

How Stuffed Animal Traditions Have Evolved

New and Improved Merchandise

Gone are the days when basic stuffed animal mascots were the only souvenirs available at the Olympics. These days, the options are far more plentiful and creative. Olympic organizers have tapped into the demand for shareworthy merchandise that fans love to show off during the games and on social media after.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics debuted the first-ever high-tech stuffed mascots – Miraitowa and Someity. Fans could feed them special Olympic coins which would prompt cute facial expressions and phrases from the mascots (Time).

Other next-gen plush toys offered sensors for hugs, fist bump interactions, and games between the mascots and fans.

Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Games also leaned into cutting-edge merchandise with a stuffed Quatchi mascot that waved his paw when fans passed a magnet over a certain spot. And London’s 2012 Olympics featured soft toy Wenlock and Mandeville mascots with one eye each – fans had to buy both and place them side-by-side to show the mascots “seeing” the games together.

Shareworthy Moments

Stuffed animals have also created shareworthy moments between Olympians and fans. The most famous recent example is when a volunteer at Pyeongchang’s 2018 Winter Olympics accidentally fell on the ice during the medal ceremony and promptly received a cuddly Soohorang tiger mascot as comfort.

Video clips of the moment went viral globally (YouTube).

There’s also the long-standing tradition of fans and Olympians trading pins back and forth. At recent games, this has extended to participants swapping their country’s plush mascot keychain for that of other nations as a sign of friendship.

It’s always heartwarming to see these exchanges unfold on social media along with photos of athletes returning home from the games with suitcases full of plushies from their competitors.

As for statistical data, a recent survey of 2000 Olympic viewers in the US found that 85% pay more attention to the games when they own merchandise related to it, with over 50% owning at least one Olympic-branded stuffed animal (NBC).

Additionally, sales data shows that licensed stuffed animals make up over 30% of total Olympic merchandising revenue – a share that has tripled since 1988 (MarketWatch).

So whether it’s innovative technology, viral moments, trading collectibles, or just cuddling up while watching events unfold, it’s clear stuffed animals continue capturing fans’ hearts at the Olympic Games with no signs of stopping.

The merch may have changed over the years, but the timeless appeal remains!


Receiving a plush mascot is still one of the most joyful parts of making it to the podium for Olympians today. While the stuffed animals have become larger and more elaborate with time, they will always symbolize the years of dedication it takes to become the best in your sport.

So next time you see champions clutching their new fuzzy friends, you’ll understand why those stuffed animals mean so much.

Similar Posts