February 12, 2018
One of the biggest controversies of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, so far, hasn't been about the results of the competitions, but what the winners are receiving.
Immediately following several of the competitions, winners have not been greeted at the podium with their medals, but instead, small stuffed animals. This led many on social media to wonder: Have the medals been replaced with essentially dolls?
Why do the Olympic winners get hello kitty dolls with hats on?? Where are the 🥇 medals?— Anish patel (@patel_meaboutit) February 12, 2018
Kinda weird the Olympic medals were replaced with hello Kitty dolls but ok— Bobby stable milkperson (@BobbyMiller3) February 11, 2018
Congratulations on your great Olympic performance! Here's a ...stuffed animal. pic.twitter.com/L6lnu8G4CW— Rob Snow (@CFRASnow) February 11, 2018
You’ve won an Olympic medal, but yeah... hold this cute stuffed animal for a few hours instead.— Michelle 💬 (@MisheeMore) February 12, 2018
Why are Olympic athletes only being handed a mascot stuffed animal and not a medal on the podium?! 🤷🏼♀️— Carly Graham (@Carlsfisch) February 12, 2018
The short answer is no. According to the Olympics website, the dolls are tiny replicas of the Olympic mascot Soohorang, a tiger. They are part of several gifts each medal winner gets, and are customized depending on whether an athlete wins Gold, Silver or Bronze:
Instead of flowers, medalists at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 will be given a doll of the Games mascot Soohorang wearing a gold, silver or bronze hat and a paper flower known as an uhsahwa. They will also receive a wooden gift adorned with mountain scenes of PyeongChang and characters from the Korean Hangul alphabet spelling out “PyeongChang 2018” in the official Games motif. Paralympic medal winners will be given a doll of their Games mascot, Bandabi, wearing an uhsahwa.
The gifts will be presented from a special ceremony tray with a non-slip surface. Like the podium, its simple design also features a traditional housing motif.
Medal winners at both the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will be recognized at the venue immediately after their competitions and then again at the PyeongChang Medal Plaza that evening as part of a wider cultural celebration.
Slate explains further that it's traditional at the Winter Games to wait to distribute medals until a nightly ceremony instead of right after each event. Per Slate:
In keeping with Winter Olympics tradition, the actual medals for the day’s winners are distributed at a single nightly celebration, which in Pyeongchang takes place at the unimaginatively named Medals Plaza. Yes, in the Summer Olympics, the victors often received their medals immediately after their events concluded—but the Summer Olympics are also much larger than the Winter Games, and a nightly summer medals ceremony would be truly interminable.
And to answer your final question, yes, you can purchase one of the stuffed tigers on Amazon.