July 5, 2012 -- Olympic mascots might not be as dramatic as the opening ceremonies, as memorable as the athletes, as prominent as the sponsors or as recognizable as the medals. But Olympic mascots are an essential part of every tournament, where the tradition of international competition and good old-fashioned marketing meet.
Mascots can become a symbol of goodwill and provide a window into the character of the host nation. They can also give younger audiences a way to connect with the games before they're old enough to appreciate the competition itself.
Wenlock and Mandeville are the official mascots of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, respectively, in London. These mascots are also the first to have an active social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.
The most prominent feature on both mascots, the eye, is designed to resemble a camera lens to allow them to "record everything," an unusual message given that security-minded London is known for having a camera on every corner.
Olympics Opener To Star 'Idyllic' Britain
Modeled after a dachshund, a popular breed in Bavaria, Waldi was the official mascot of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Designed by Otl Aicher, who also created the logo for Lufthansa, the rainbow dog has three of the five Olympic colors. (Red and black were omitted because they were the official colors of the Nazi party.)
What It Takes To Be Banned From the Olympics
The 1980 Summer Olympic Games were boycotted by the United States and some 60 other nations in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. In a kind of public relations effort to show the softer side of the USSR, the games' mascot, a bear named Misha, is a cuddlier version of the symbol of Russia created by children's book illustrator Victor Chizikov.
The character proved so popular in Moscow that it went on to have its own cartoon show.
Created by Disney designer C. Robert Moore, Sam the Bald Eagle represented the United States, which hosted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The eagle shares the same fashion sense of his namesake, Uncle Sam.
Like Misha, Sam also appeared in cartoons, but it aired in Japan.
For the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Hodori, who clearly resembles Kellogg's Tony the Tiger, was designed by creator Kim Hyun to look like an Amur Tiger.
Originally part of a duet with a female tiger named Hosuni, Hodori proved the more popular of the two, so Hasuni was relegated to the background. Even mascots can come in second place at the Olympics.
Modeled after a Catalan Sheepdog, Cobi was the mascot created by cartoonist Javier Mariscal for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Inspired by Pablo Picasso's cubist style, Cobi was a departure from the cuddlier mascots trend that began in 1980.
Appearing alternatively wearing a blue dress suit or nothing more than his fur, Cobi proved popular with both spectators and sponsors, and appeared on television in both cartoons and commercials.
The mascot of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Izzy, derived from it's official name, "Whatizit," broke new ground by being the first mascot designed using computer animation. Izzy was also the first abstract mascot, not representing either a human or animal.
Created by John Ryan, an Atlanta-based designer, Izzy also might have the distinction of being the most universally derided mascot in Olympics history. Sportscaster Bob Costas called it "a genetic experiment gone horribly, ghastly wrong," according to the New York Times.
The 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney featured multiple mascots based on indigenous Australian animals.
Syd was a platypus named after Australia's most populous city and the host of the games, Sydney. He represented the environment of Australia and energy of its people. Millie was an echidna, whose represented the new millennium. Olly was a kookaburra who represented the Olympic spirit.
The three mascots combined proved less popular than their satirical counterpart, Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat, devised by Sydney cartoonist Paul Newell and Australian comedy duo Roy and HG.
Named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom and patron of Athens, and Phevos, the god of light and music, these two mascots for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens designed by Spyros Gogos.
Athenos and Phevos are meant to look like modern children in the form of terracotta sculptures tracing back in the 7th century B.C. The attempt to tie into ancient Greek culture proved unpopular, with critics alleging it reinforced a stereotype of the home country.
Given how many people are in China, it should come as no surprise that this super-sized nation would lead the pack with the most number of mascots for a single games.
Artist Han Meilin, who reportedly suffered two heart attacks while designing the mascots, created five characters -- Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini -- collectively known as the Fuwa, or "good luck dolls," for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Each mascot is meant to represent a different continent, sport and element. Huanhuan, for example, represents the Americas, ball and racquet sports, and the element of fire.
PHOTOS: Olympic Tech Faster Than Skin