Vancouver Olympics 2010 Logo:

Inukshuk, Pac-man, or Frankenstein?

By Essam Farag

In past years, mascots and logos of international sporting events have aroused both people's admiration and loathing. Similarly, a controversy is brewing over the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics logo. 

Named Ilanaaq, the logo was designed by the graphic artist Elena Rivera MacGregor. It immediately raised unfriendly criticism by some British Columbian Native leaders. A panel of nine international judges chose it from more than 1,600 submissions. The panel of judges liked the design's simplicity and its message that reminds the world of a country that acknowledges multiculturalism and diversity.

Ilanaaq is meant to represent a type of Inukshuk, which is a symbol deeply rooted in Inuit culture and is a marker that signifies safety, hope and friendship. Elena MacGregor's design is a pile of colored rocks signifying the logo. The green head, bulky blue body, and thick legs has promoted intense emotional reactions. The logo features five stone-like formations: two thick red and yellow pillars as legs, a wide blue body, horizontal shape resembling arms, and a rectangular green head.

The design has prompted intense emotional reactions in most Canadian newspapers and some international media sources as well, due to differing interpretations of what the mascot actually resembles. 

Some leading experts in Inuit stone configurations said that "the emblem is most definitely is not an inukshuk." One of Canada's leading experts on Inuit stone configurations, Norman Hallendy, said the emblem is most definitely not an Inukshuk, since Inukshuk is a collection of stones assembled by northern Inuit to serve as navigational beacons, and can take many shapes. Similar stone figures that resemble humans are called, Innunguaq.

West coast Natives are outraged at the nod to Inuit culture with unfriendly comments about Ilanaaq, whose name means friend in Inuktitut. The stalky figure is an Inukshuk, an Inuit symbol used for centuries to point traveling Inuit to safety. In Native history, the Inukshuk were built by the Inuit on top of a hill, overlooking Kuujjuaq, Quebec.

President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Stewart Philip said that the logo had a remarkable resemblance to Pac-man. Toronto art director, Ken Rodmell, mentioned that "it doesn't look like a smile. It is menacing, like he is some slightly crazed giant, or a monster from a horror movie. It has no neck. The head is square. It is flat on top. This is Frankenstein. As well, I don't think it looks very comfortable in color." A caller to a Vancouver radio show said Ilanaak resembled the toy figurine Gumby, only with a rocket launcher. 

Vancouver's Olympic logo - Ilanaaq - has been derided by critics who see it as an insult to Native culture, comparing it to Pac-man, Gumby or even Frankenstein!

Other Olympic Logos

Even though the the Vancouver 2010 logo received a lot of criticism about its shape and the perceptions of what it visually represents to many people, past Olympic logos and mascot were not immune to similar criticism. Here we survey some of the more recognizable Olympic symbols of recent memory. The criticism directed at logos/mascots ranges from dislike for the symbol's design and colors, to their failure to represent the host city or the Olympic spirit, to simply "looking bad."


Phevos and Athena were the brother and sister mascots of Athens 2004. They are inspired by an ancient Greek doll. The names of two Olympian gods: Phevos, name of the Olympian god of light and music and Athena, goddess of wisdom and patron of the city of Athens. When they were first unveiled, the brother and sister were criticized for their seemingly anomalous bodies, with massive feet, tiny arms, and triangular bodies. Some took this design to be a caricature of dwarfism rather than a tribute to Greek gods.


"Amik" the beaver was chosen as the official mascot for the Summer Olympic Games of Montreal, 1976. "Amik" in Indian language means beaver. The beaver has always been associated with hard work. To some, the logo of Montreal 1976 resembled a derogatory hand gesture.


In the upcoming Summer Olympic Games of 2008 to be held in Beijing, China, the logo looks like a running figure crossing the finish line in triumph. A Chinese internet correspondent wrote back in 2003, "the figure looks so weak, the legs are soft and limp, like a eunuch trembling before his master."

Barcelona 1992

The Spaniards did not immediately take to "Cobi", the surreal dog from the Summer Olympic Games of Barcelona, who was designed by local cartoonist Javier Mariscal. "Cobi's" popularity slowly grew and by the end of the Games he was loved universally by the Spanish and the rest of the world. "Cobi" was supported by a group of mascots during the Barcelona Games - including the Paralympic mascot "Petra." The whole mascot crew was featured as part of a popular Spanish TV show.

Atlanta 1996

The mascot of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta was an amorphous abstract fantasy figure. It carried the name "Izzy", derived from "Whatizit?" because no one seemed to know exactly what "Izzy" really was. He changed his appearance several times after the closing ceremony in Barcelona in 1992. Over time he grew a mouth where only lips had existed, he added stars in his eyes, bulked up and gained muscles in his previously spindly legs, and eventually sprouted a nose.


"Sukki", "Nokki", "Lekki", and "Tsukki " were the names of the four snow owls that became the mascots of Nagano. Originally, the Nagano mascot was a weasel named "Snowple," but he was later replaced by the four snow owls. They seemed to suffer the same fate as the 1992 Barcelona mascot, "Cobi," and there was little interest in the Snowlets until halfway into the Nagano Games when all of Japan fell madly in love with them.

Los Angeles 1984

The Los Angeles 1984 Olympic logo was an obvious symbol of the stars and stripes brought together. The moving stars refer to people running or on the move, emphasizing the track sports of the Summer Games.

The paunch blue Snow Imp named "Magique" became the mascot of the Albertville Winter Games. The first mascot, "Chamois," a mountain goat common to the Savoie region of France, was unceremoniously dropped about two years before the 1992 Winter Games.

Lillehammer 1994

The Lillehammer Games of 1994 in Norway had a logo that resembled piano keys or northern lights of the Scandinavian winter


Like the new Canadian Olympic logo, the Australian logo for the Sydney 2000 Summer Games, appropriates aboriginal culture - the Boomerangs - in a way that feels strained.

Calgary 1988

The bear siblings "Hidy" and "Howdy" from the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary were the first dual mascots in the Olympic Games. They took the form of inseparable brother and sister polar bears. The Calgary Zoo sponsored a contest to name the bears. Among the nearly 7,000 entries submitted, the names "Hidy" and "Howdy" were eventually chosen.

It is constructive to criticize Olympic logos, especially since they are not mere symbols for the international athletic events, but serve as a emblems for the spirit of the games. It is important to ensure that such feedback is substantive. In many cases, the logos are exaggerations that serve as entertaining caricatures with an uplifting essence. Furthermore, these symbols' overall likeability will make them more marketable. That is precisely the reason such mascots/logos have attracted both admiration and antagonism. Based on the comments made about Illanaaq so far, it seems quite absurd and extremely far-fetched to draw similarities between it and either Pac-man, Gumby or Frankenstein! Simply looking at them shows that such commonalities are baseless! While Illanaaq is a caricature, the comments about it have been comedic!! This is our friend, llanaaq, the official emblem and symbol of Vancouver Olympic 2010 Winter Games who greet and welcome our guests.

Essam Farag, BA Honors (Dalhousie), MA (Guelph) is currently the special projects coordinator for the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations (NCCAR). He is the Production Editor of the Ambassadors Magazine. Email: essamfarag@ambassadors.net