Monday, February 5, 2018

The Seoul Olympics Hodori

On September 30, 1981 South Korea learned that its proposal to host the 1988 Olympics had been accepted. South Koreans went wild! And thus they began planning a very impressive opening to the games with precision to detail, and of course symbolism.

As in all Asian and Olympic games, a mascot is chosen and South Korea chose the hodori, their mascot from the 1986 Asian games, to be their on-going mascot in the 1988 Olympics. I've heard references to the mascot of the 1986 Asian games as actually being the hosuni, the female version of the hodori, but have been unable to prove or even disprove this. In any regard, hodori derives from the "ho", the Chinese character for tiger or horangi in full, and "dori" as a masculine diminutive; "suni" would therefore be the feminine diminutive.

Kim Hyun, then 35, was the designer of the hodori mascot for the '88 Olympics. And in the intervening 40 years, it has remained his most significant and internationally recognized design, although he has contributed many other designs that are also rather iconic within South Korea like those of "HiSeoul" and "T-money".

In designing the "hodori" tiger, the representative animal chosen, he was imagining the Amur tiger and thought to portray it as friendly and hospitable as tigers have often been portrayed in Korean legends and folk tales as well as being stylized in art with a quirky humorous demeanor. Tigers are extinct in Korea but less than a hundred years ago they were a real threat to citizens, and yet, Koreans have always had a kind of love-hate relationship with the tiger, which figures heavily in their folk stories and art, and the striped beast was both feared and respected, and so commonly tigers were verbalized as being humorous, brave and noble.

Symbols also present in Kim Hyun's tiger caricature are the five Olympic rings around his neck and the sangmo, the hat worn in pungmul which is traditional music that incorporates singing, dancing, drumming and even acrobatics. The sangmo hat had a long ribbon attached as it was whirled as the wearer performed. Therefore, Kim Hyun stylized the friendly tiger wearing a traditional hat with the ribbon curled into a "S" as a symbol of Seoul the host capital. In much of the Olympic hodori art the ribbon does not always curl in the S-shape as the hodori is characterized as participating in all of the sports at some point, but pay attention to the curl of the ribbon as it may represent the initial letter of the sport the hodori is characterizing.

In choosing the tiger as the representative mascot of South Korea, 4,344 entries were reviewed until the selection was narrowed to four  -- a rabbit, a squirrel, a pair of mandarin ducks (also very symbolic in Korea) and a tiger before ultimately choosing the striped fellow. The selection of name for the stylized-tiger-to-be generated 2,295 suggestions from the public before finalizing the name "hodori".

Eventually the 1988 Seoul Olympics would last 16 days, starting on the 17th of September in 1988 and lasting through the 2nd of October. During those days 8,391 athletes from 159 countries would compete in 237 matches of 23 events. Not only did South Korea host the Olympics and "put Korea on the map" but they also ate up the home turf and ranked 4th in the Olympics overall! This was a major success for a country that had been forced open only one century before, colonized by another country for 35 years, struggled with a civil war after colonization and then struggled with extreme poverty and a ravaged agricultural society for another two decades. South Korea had become industrialized, earned money, increased trade, exported more than it imported and had earned the right to hold their heads high and host the most famous of international games.

Yoon Tae-woong, the hoop boy
of the 1988 Seoul Olympics 
International visitors and people watching television were incredibly impressed by the grand opening ceremony of the games. But perhaps the most impressive scene to Koreans, I hear this over and over and this is three decades later!, is when the boy rolled a hoop across the stadium field. The boy is also called the hodori of the Seoul Olympics.

In July 1988 the Seoul Olympic organizing committee announced that they were looking for a boy to roll a hoop in the opening ceremony. The boy had to be cute for public broadcasting and had to have been born on the 30th of September 1981, the day that Seoul had been selected as the Olympic-hosting city in Badenbaden, Germany. One boy, Yoon Tae-woong, was selected among 24,000 kids as the hodori and he became the symbol of Korea rising from poverty to roll a hoop toward a better future. Yoon Tae-woong currently is pursuing a career in acting, but it seems that he will never achieve the interest of the nation as he did when he was "hoop boy". To see Tae-woong as "hoop boy" in the Olympics, watch The 24th 88 Seoul Olympic Games Opening Ceremony and refer to 1:20.5 to see his tiny moments of fame.

"Soohorang", a white tiger caricature, will be the mascot in the upcoming 2018 Olympics hosted by South Korea. The white tiger is the most famous, according to the Chinese zodiac, among all of the tigers. I'm sure he was chosen as a very augurous character.

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