And the Champion Receives a Medal, a Check, and…a Stuffed Animal?
(by Steve Hopkins)
Have you ever wondered why top athletes are seen celebrating with a stuffed animal in one hand? This phenomenon appears to have begun at the Olympics where athletes used to be given beautiful bouquets of flowers to hold as a part of a visually impressive awards ceremony. Over the last few years there has been movement away from the bouquets towards other keepsakes. Most recently, those keepsakes have been small stuffed animals that are likenesses of the event mascot.
Floral arrangements can be expensive. There are a lot of events at many of the large competitions, and some group has to arrive with flowers, arrange flowers, and must keep the flowers protected and at the right temperature. The flowers are then given to athletes who don’t really have a way to keep them, so many of the expensive bouquets become trash. An alternate keepsake makes more sense for the athletes and as these large events struggle to stay green, providing a gift that athletes will keep is also more eco-friendly.
The change allows for the venue to highlight their country – like the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics choosing a white tiger as tigers are important to Korean culture. For the Pan American Games, Toronto (2017) used a hedgehog as their mascot and early this year Lima chose a chuchimilco (a likeness of a terracotta figurine famous in the region). These figures provide an opportunity to promote the host nation, and they also provide an opportunity to market and sell these stuffed figures to fans.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics and the 2014 Winter Olympics, flowers were on every podium. By the 2016 Summer Olympics, flowers were replaced with small statues. By the 2018 Winter Olympics, athletes were holding stuffed white tigers. The change-over isn’t universal; as gymnastics and figure skating events have stuck with their long history of flowers. But in sports from badminton to track & field, and in events from the Pan Am Games earlier this month to this week’s Asian Championships, stuffed animals are joining athletes on the podiums.
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