The Olympics are exciting are plenty of reasons.
For one thing, it's one of the few times you get to rally around not just a team but an entire nation. It can feel powerful to join together with your fellow countrymen and root shamelessly for a common cause.
You also get to see the very best of the best athletes across several different sports compete against each other. (And you know that if these athletes are so beastly that Kris Letang and Milan Lucic didn't even make the cut, it should make for some good entertainment.)
But hands down, the best element of any Olympics is the mascot.
Mascots are meant to represent something special about the host country. They're supposed to be creative yet poignant. Host countries have years to brainstorm, prepare and come up with the very best mascot ever.
That begs the question: How did these mascots make the cut?
When: Winter 1992
When your country's mascot is called a mountain elf, you have already failed.
Mountain elves are terrifying. (No.) They are formidable. (No.) They call to mind qualities such as strength and tenacity. (No.)
This is a classic case of too many irons in the fire, which is astounding considering it suggests that a vast number of people agreed that a mountain elf should represent Albertville, France, in the most epic sporting event of the year.
Magique's body is in the shape of a star, and he is rendered in France's national colors. Interestingly, Magique was brought in as an emergency call-up after the original mascot, a mountain chamois, was deemed not popular enough.
So just to recap, there was once an idea that was less popular than a mascot that is sometimes referred to as "a Man-star" or "a snow imp."
When: Summer 1972
This could have been a good idea. The intentions were good. But the execution? Not so much.
Waldi the Dachshund initiated the tradition of Olympic mascots, and he was meant to represent host city Munich's best qualities: resistance, tenacity and agility. Additionally, dachshunds were a particularly popular breed in Bavaria.
But look at this thing. It resembles a multicolored wooden toy. I know graphics in 1972 weren't quite what they are nowadays, but come on. Munich had months to get ready for this, and—given that this was the first official Olympic mascot—it had to come in with a bang.
When: Winter 1984
Usually when people see a wolf, they run in the other direction. Usually, it's a good bet to avoid attempting to befriend a wolf. Right?
No, actually, according to Sarajevo, which took the opportunity to use its Olympic mascot as a PSA. The message? Wolves are friendly, lovable creatures.
Officially, Sarajevo indicated that Vucko symbolized the desire of humans to befriend animals. Normally, though, when we talk about humans wanting to befriend animals, we stick with dogs. Or cats. Or other certifiably friendly animals that can be domesticated.
I can only imagine that advocating befriending a wolf backfired in some instances.
When: Winter 2014
At least the other mascots on this list are interesting, even if they're a little bizarre and ill-advised.
The mascots chosen for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi are none of those things. They are boring. And the only thing worse than having an offensive and/or ridiculous mascot is having a boring one.
For the first time, the Olympic mascots were chosen by popular vote, and the general public went with Bely Mishka the polar bear, Snow Leopard (which apparently didn't deserve a name) and Zaika the Dore Hare.
And this just goes to show how putting everything to a vote, while democratic, is not always effective. (By the way, we're talking about Russia, so that's ironic.)
When: Winter 1968
This mascot accomplishes the rare feat of being both silly and irrelevant to anything the host country represents. So congratulations, Grenoble!
A couple of notes in Grenoble's defense: This was the "unofficial" mascot of the 1968 Olympic Games, since "official" mascots didn't come into play until good old Waldi debuted in 1972. Schuss was originally created as a toy, and it became so popular that it was dubbed the unofficial mascot of the Games.
You have to remember it's 1968, so design capabilities were a bit limited, but still. A stylized skier? That's all you could come up with, Grenoble? And what is the difference between a "stylized" skier and an "unstylized" skier?
When: Winter 1988
Come on, Calgary. You should have done better than this.
In some ways, the Snowlets were innovative. They were the first pair to be crowned Olympic mascots when the honor was usually reserved for one. But you'd think that Calgary could do better than a couple of polar bears named Hidy and Howdy, who were supposed to be brother and sister and whose names were supposed to mean "hi."
Literally. You could have named them anything. And you went with "hi"? I get that you wanted them to represent hospitality, but really?
When: Summer 2012
So there's getting creative, and then there's getting too much into your own head. I think you overthought this one just a little bit, London.
It seems like these host cities just can't win with picking a mascot. Either they go by the way of Grenoble and end up with a ridiculously obvious "stylized skier," or they go by the way of London, creating a mascot so obscure that you can't even tell what it is.
Officially, Wenlock is supposed to be "drops of steel with cameras for eyes." The mascot is named after Much Wenlock, a village in Shropshire, which once hosted the Olympics in the 19th century, way before they were actually called the Olympics.
But really, who went to the Olympic Mascot Committee Meeting and suggested "drops of steel with cameras for eyes" as a joke, only to watch in horror as it become the actual choice?
When: Winter 1976
Here we are, back again to the Olympic mascot theme of embarrassing simplicity. And you didn't think it could get more obvious than Schuss the Stylized Skier.
Clearly, what happened was the deadline arrived, and Innsbruck realized it forgot to come up with a mascot. That's the only explanation for how The Snowman represented the 1976 Winter Olympics. He wasn't even given a name. He's just The Snowman.
They also didn't bother to give him an actual explanation that would have conjured up some semblance of importance. Innsbruck just insisted that The Snowman was meant to represent "the Games of Simplicity."
When: Winter 1980
The 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid are remembered fondly by so many Americans; they were, after all, the site of the most exciting athletic accomplishment in our nation's history.
So, since all we can remember is beating the Soviets in ice hockey, we probably don't remember Roni the Raccoon. And that's for the best.
I didn't realize the raccoon was considered "a traditional American animal," but according to the mascot powers that be, it is. So there's that. The other reason Roni was chosen was because his facial design allegedly represents the kinds of hats and goggles used by "competitors."
Because that's not a reach at all.
When: Winter 2006
I never knew that snowballs and ice cubes were so environmentally conscious.
As always, Turin's intentions were good. It wanted a mascot that was (1) aimed at a younger audience (gotta build up that viewership!) and (2) representative of qualities that included "enthusiasm, passion for sport and care for the environment."
Again...I've never really thought of snowballs and ice cubes as being particularly enthusiastic, but I'll allow it.
Somehow, our friendly mascots Neve and Gliz won an international design competition, and that's how they were chosen as mascots.
Competition must have been stiff that year.
When: Summer 2004
I just don't get it. You are Greece. You have so much to work with. You have an entire collection of gods, many of whom represent the very precise qualities that the Olympic Games—which originated in your nation!—wish to espouse: strength, determination, power. I could go on.
But in 2004, Athens went with a brother and sister pairing named Phevos and Athena, meant to resemble ancient Greek dolls.
Ancient Greek dolls.
I'll let that marinate for a while.
For more information on mascots and their history, see the official Olympics site here.