2020 Olympic Barbies: A set of five dolls representing different nationalities and races, dressed in sportswear and wearing a medal.

Barbie’s Olympic History

Release Date: August 7, 2023

Category: Blog | Olympics

While we have been busy getting ready for next year’s Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Paris, we have managed to take a few breaks and head out to the movies to see this summer’s blockbusters Oppenheimer and Barbie. We don’t know of any Olympic connection with Oppenheimer, but Barbie? She has a long history with the Olympics.

 

In 1974, Mattel issued a series of Gold Medal Barbies: a swimmer, skater and skier. Each had an appropriate sporty outfit and gold medal. An exclusive model for the USOC (now USOPC) sponsor Sears featured a doll with three outfits: a swimsuit, skating dress, and parade outfit. Gold Medal Ken (swimmer and skier) and Skipper (swimmer) completed the set. Gymnast PJ included a set of uneven parallel bars. Similar versions were issued in Canada and Australia.

 

Mattel, owner of the Barbie brand, created an Olympic Gymnast Barbie for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics featuring a “magic tumbling ring” that allowed the doll to spin and flip. The Winter Olympics did not miss out on the Barbie treatment. Olympic Skater Barbie, with wind up action, debuted in time for Nagano 1998. She could skate in the ladies competition, or join Olympic Skater Ken for the pairs. The commercial, which included Barbie performing a very illegal back flip, featured gold medalist Tara Lipinski.

 

For the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, Mattel produced a Swimming Champion Barbie but also created a series of Olympic Fan Barbies, specific for each country. Barbie wore a country specific track suit, Sydney t-shirt, gold medal, and carried a flag. In a nod to some of our favorite kind of people, Mattel issued an official Sydney 2000 Olympic Pin Collector Barbie. She wears high-waisted jeans, a Crocodile Dundee style hat, and a vest covered in Olympic pins ready for trading.

 

In 2015, Barbie debuted the Sheroes line, creating dolls from real-life heroes. Olympians included in the line are gymnasts Gabby Douglas and Laurie Hernandez, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed, boxer Nicola Adams, volleyball player Hui Ruoqi, soccer player Sara Gama, and TKFLASTANI Chloe Kim. In 2020, the Shero line expanded to include six more athletes, including paraswimmer Sumeyye Boyaci and Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan. Olga has been in the news this month as the fencer who refused to shake the hand of her Russian competitor.

 

For the Tokyo Olympics, Mattel and the International Olympic Committee formed a new licensing partnership as part of a new initiative, the IOC Global Licensing Strategy. Mattel created Olympic-themed products for several of its brands, like Uno, Hot Wheels, Little People, and especially Barbie. Softball, surfing, sport climbing, karate, and skateboarding got their own dolls. These were the five sports added to the program by Tokyo organizers. Several fashion packs included Miraitowa printed on the clothes. Controversy ensued, however, when critics pointed out the lack of an Asian-American doll. Mattel how touted the collection as the most diverse doll line yet and claimed that the Skateboarder Barbie was intended to represent the Asian-American community. While the African-American and Hispanic-American doll are clearly representative, most observers did not see the Skateboarder as distinctly Asian. This was especially disappointing since an Asian city would be hosting the Summer Olympics.

Barbie 2020 role model dolls - 6 dolls from different countries representing different sports, including running, soccer, fencing, and surfing.

The 2020 Barbie Role Model dolls, which represent various Olympic sports.

 

The most recent addition to the Olympic Barbie catalog is quite distinctly Asian-American: Kristi Yamaguchi. Barbie Kristi wears a copy the blue and gold dress the real Kristi wore for her gold-medal winning program at the 1992 Winter Olympics. The doll has articulated elbows and knees, so fans can position her in particularly figure skating poses.

 

No announcements have been made about Barbie products for Paris 2024, though as far back as 1979, Mattel has been inspired by the City of Light.

–Alison Brown

Photo credit: Mattel, Inc.