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The Story Behind the Paris Olympic Mascots

 Pryges Olympic mascots. All photo credits to the Olympic website

When I was in southwestern France a couple of months ago, the country was in full Olympic mode.  Even in extreme southwestern France, all things Olympics were for sale, including the stuffed Olympic mascot.  I had no idea what it was – an Eiffel Tower? a bird?  I looked into it and learned that it was something deeply rooted in France’s history.

But first, a bit about Olympic mascots…

Olympic mascots began appearing at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble (remember Peggy Fleming?). Otherwise known as “Shuss”, the mascot was a little zigzag man with a big bobble head and the Olympic rings on his head instead of hair. It was created in one day!  (I couldn’t find out what 82635 means).

First Olympic mascot Shuss. All photo credits to the Olympic website

Back to Paris…

The Paris Olympic mascots are called (drumroll)… Phryges!  Wait – what?   What-the-Phryges?  Yup, it’s on the Olympic website.

How do you even say that?  Well, it’s pronounced  (“fri-jee-uhs”).  There’s even a You Tube channel dedicated to the pronunciation of the name.  I swear! 

What, exactly, is a Phryge?

It’s named after the Phrygian cap. You’re saying, “and that means what?”  According to the website,  Age of Revolution,

“Phrygian caps, soft conical hats with the top curled forward, originated in Phrygia (now part of modern Turkey). In ancient Rome freed slaves wore a similar style of hat, called the pileus, to indicate their liberty. In Europe, it was later assumed that the pileus and the Phrygian cap were one and the same. When the people of Brittany rose against the taxation policies of Louis XIV in 1675, the rebels declared their support by wearing red (sometimes blue) Phrygian caps.”


During the French Revolution, Phrygian caps became commonly known as Jacobin caps, because they symbolized Jacobism - a  philosophy representing a complete dismantling of an old system, and replacing it with a radical and new structure.  A Jacobin was a member of the Jacobin Club, a revolutionary political movement during the French Revolution  (think Robespierre*).  The club got its name from meeting at the Dominican rue Saint-Honore Monastery of the Jacobins, or just plain old Jacobins. 


* I won’t go into the details about Robespierre.  I’ll let you read about it on Wikipedia.  Let’s just say, he ended up with the same fate as Marie Antoinette.


So the Phrygian cap, or Jacobin cap, essentially symbolizes France.

The Phryges represent both the Olympic and Paralympics.  According to the Olympic website, “the motto of the Olympic Phryge and Paralympic Phryge is: ‘Alone we go faster, but together we go further,’ representing the ways in which the mascots, and the people of the world, can make each other better by working side-by-side.”  The webpage even has a short video showing the Phryges in various Olympic sports.  So cute!

If you’re planning to watch the Olympics, or even get the chance to go, now you know the story behind the Paris Olympic mascots!

p.s. July 14 is French independence day, but many Americans call it Bastille Day (even though the French don't).

Photo by Luca Dugaro on Unsplash


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