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(Yonhap Interview) PyeongChang Olympics' unlikely star: Soohorang the white tiger

All Headlines 11:39 February 19, 2018

SEOUL, Feb. 19 (Yonhap) -- A white stuffed tiger has emerged as an unlikely star of the Winter Games currently taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea.

"Soohorang," the mascot for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, is cuddled by Olympic winners on the podium after their events, receiving as much media attention as victorious athletes.

The mascot is modeled after a white tiger, a mythological guardian in Korean folklore. "Sooho" means protection in Korean, and "rang" comes from the middle letter of "ho-rang-i," the Korean word for tiger.

The PyeongChang Olympic mascot Soohorang with a royal hat (Yonhap)

The design team said it took them a long time to pick the animal over other candidates, including the Jindo dog, a breed of Korean hunting dog originating from Jindo Island and known for its loyalty and intelligence.

"Since a tiger was the mascot of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, we had toyed with other options. We considered a deer, a squirrel and a Jindo dog and created so many other types of mascots," said Park So-young, head of the content design team at Mass C&G, the creator of the mascot, in a recent interview at the company's offices in Sangam-dong, western Seoul. Mass C&G also created the mascot "Bandabi" that represents the PyeongChang Paralympics.

A series of initial surveys pointed to a tiger as the most favored animal by the public to represent the Olympics. Since the animal was previously used to represent the country's first Olympics in 1988, the team went with a more auspicious white tiger for its symbolism, among other factors.

This file photo taken on Nov. 23, 2017, shows Soohorang (L), the mascot for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and Bandabi, the mascot for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics, covered in snow in Sejong. (Yonhap)

The team sought advice from Everland, an amusement park and zoo where 10 white tigers live, to make the mascot look as friendly as possible.

"Soohorang's facial expression looks like that of a human. And we took great pain in deciding on its head size as we had learned that people tend to prefer big heads," Lee In-seok, the team's designer, said.

Naming the mascot wasn't easy, either.

They created some 2,000 names and received consulting in and out of the country. It was important for those names not to be associated with bad images in foreign languages.

When the two mascots were finally unveiled to the world in fall 2016, the creators said they were very nervous about how people would react to their products. But now those worries are gone, they said.

"I am so grateful that people love Soohorang and Bandabi. If they had not been loved, I would have been very frustrated," Lee said.

Another designer Jang Joo-young said, "I hope the Olympics end successfully and that the mascots continue to be loved by people so that I feel proud of having participated in the project for the rest of my life."

The creators of the mascots for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics pose for a photo at Mass C&G in Sangam-dong, western Seoul, on Feb. 13, 2018. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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