Sports

Why are medalists in PyeongChang getting stuffed animals, and not flowers?

Women carrying dolls depicting Soohorang, the mascot of the PyeongChang Games, prepared for a medal presentation earlier this week.
How Hwee Young/EPA/Shutterstock
Women carrying dolls depicting Soohorang, the mascot of the PyeongChang Games, prepared for a medal presentation earlier this week.

At the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, winners walked away with sculptures of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics logo (in addition to their medals). In PyeongChang in 2018, the prize is a bit more cuddly.

Instead of the flower bouquets that winners received prior to 2016, athletes medaling in their events receive a white tiger stuffed animal named Soohorang, the mascot of this year’s games.

So where did the flowers go?

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It’s a question that initially made viewers scratch their heads in 2016. The change was part of a larger initiative by the International Olympic Committee to make the games more sustainable.

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The flowers that had previously been given to winners were “not very sustainable,” Christy Nicolay, the executive producer of the victory ceremonies in 2016, told The New York Times. “We give it to an athlete, and very often they just throw it away.”

In August 2016, the IOC released a series of changes for the Olympic Winter Games, intended to offer “Olympic Winter Games candidates and host cities more flexibility to design games that advance their sustainability and legacy goals.” The IOC hopes to fully implement those plans by the 2026 Games.

The Soohorang mascot has “been long considered Korea’s guardian animal,” according to the Olympics’ website.

“‘Sooho’, meaning protection in Korean, symbolises the protection offered to the athletes, spectators and other participants of the 2018 Games,” it says. “ ‘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.”

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.