You may have seen the official mascots for the London 2012 Summer Olympics and asked yourself, “What’s the dealio with the one-eyed bottle opener and the silver shoe horn?” Ah yes, Wenlock the iPod and Mandeville the maxipad, as I know them. Indeed, at first glance it would appear the Pommies are implying that the human spirit soars wherever vintage Coke bottles are opened and buffed loafers are slipped on without bending the leather. HUMAN SPIRIT LONDON 2012!!!
But on looking into it, Wenlock and Mandeville, who have received ample criticism from British nationals as “rejects from a Pixar movie,” turn out to have a rich backstory. (Personally, we were most amused by the unintentional appearance of Mandeville having wet his pants.) Apparently, the mascots are supposed to represent steel drips, in a celebration of Britain’s industrial past, and are named for a town with ties to the Olympic history and a hospital at which the Paralympic Games were founded. Which is kinda nice.
More importantly, Wenlock and Mandeville join a large family of aesthetically questionable Olympic mascots, dating back to the spermlike Schuss from the 1968 Grenoble Olympics.
The challenge for games organizers is: How to inspire a nation and capture the imagination of the world? If you’re German, you do this by injecting a weiner dog into the public sphere. Waldo the dachschund, signifier for the 1972 Munich Games, also provided the shape of the marathon course, with elite athletes rounding the stumpy extremities of Waldo’s paws, before slogging mile after mile along the sausage dog’s back and belly. After hitting the wall, one athlete is believed to have yelled out in pain, “I can’t take any more sausage!”
The Canadians put a beaver front and center for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. “Amik” embodied the spirit of a pinecone, dressed up in a Miss Universe sash and otherwise blending in with the carpet, though he was rumored to be incredibly hospitable to guests and very fond of bowling and poutine.
For the 1988 Seoul Olympics, organizers simply took a trip to their kitchen pantry, before cribbing Tony the Tiger off a box of cereal and passing him off as “Hodori the Tiger.” Hodori proved immensely popular, but was later derided for eating one of the other mascots.
In 2000, the Sydney Olympic Committee unveiled an echidna, platypus, and kookaburra to world audiences as the official merchanized mascots, having hedged a bet on an animal that the British didn’t even believe existed when Charles Darwin first wrote of its characteristics. Despite the supposed appeal of Syd, Millie and Ozzie, the games were stolen by a rogue mascot dreamed up by two comedians. “Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat” became a celebrated icon and was later honored with his own statue at Olympic Park.
The good people of Albertville turned their backs on Chamois the mountain goat, the original mascot, upon which the graphic designer invented a kind of “sweatsuit Santa” Christmas ornament thing, proving that one bad idea can indeed be outdone by a subsequent bad idea.
We feel for artists, who have to embody Olympic ideals every four years, with an ever-shrinking roster of unused animals and mythological creatures on offer. “Oy with the embodying!” We bet they say at brainstorming sessions. If there was a SparkLife Olympics, we think that a sloth would make a killer mascot. Why? Because he can’t be bothered to type nasty comments (dude only has three fingers), he sounds like he has mono (we, too, have been called slothful after failing to rise on time), and he’s eminently huggable.
What do you think would make a good Olympic mascot?