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Thursday, February 06, 2014
The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi open tomorrow, February 7! Here's a taste of what the last Olympic Games brought into Russian culture.
In the context of the Cold War, the 1980 Moscow Olympics were inevitably remembered for their political implications: the US-led boycott and the show of prosperity for foreigners, the fallout from letting foreign elements behind the Iron Curtain. But within the Soviet Union, the Olympic Games brought a lighter legacy of music, cartoons, art, and festivities to remember.
What’s not to love about an adorable stuffed bear wearing a belt with the Olympic rings, always smiling and happy to see everyone? Misha, the instantly recognizable bear mascot designed by kids’ illustrator Viktor Chizhikov, greeted everyone at the opening ceremonies and cried when everyone had to leave at the close. But his appearances didn’t end there: not only was the inflatable Misha from the closing ceremony on display for a while, he was also sold in endless smiling dolls, images, posters… He even had his own cartoon, in which he makes his way to the Olympics despite the efforts of a jealous Baba Yaga and her mismatched group of Russian-fairy-tale-based villain assistants.
And speaking of cartoons, Misha himself and the Olympics in general also found their way into other popular cartoons of the time. The 13th episode [video] of “Nu, Pogodi!” (a Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner-style chase cartoon) takes place at the Olympics, complete with an awards ceremony where Misha presents the Wolf and Hare with a chocolate trophy. All the icons of the Games are present: the rings (the Wolf’s smoke rings), the diversity, announcements in English, a wide variety of sports, and even a brief moment of reconciliation over a joint victory.
The moment is, however, extremely brief and almost immediately ruined as the characters get right back to their usual antagonisms.
The Olympic Ruble
The Olympics also show up, in passing, in another famous cartoon, Three from Prostokvashino – a magpie steals a coin from Pechkin the mailman, for which Pechkin wants to send the poor bird to a lab for animal testing. Why does the mailman get so worked up? It’s not just any coin, it’s a commemorative Olympic ruble! Several variants were released between 1977 and 1980, but all allowed the Soviet public to feel like they were part of something special, a Union-wide celebration and opportunity to show off. And if you got your hands on an Olympic ruble, you got to keep it forever – unless some magpie stole it!
But the Games themselves had to come to a close. In addition to the crying-Misha card stunt and the inflatable Misha flying off with a bunch of balloons, the Closing Ceremony that year gave Russia the song Goodbye, Moscow! [До свиданья, Москва!] It was a hit in the original Russian, and was translated into several languages, including English, French, Czech, and Finnish. Thirty years later, Russians still know the words.
Here’s hoping that these Winter Games turn out to be just as memorable!
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons