Union Jack Mascots. (London 2012)
(ATR) Steely, not warm and fuzzy. Odd-faced. Unfamiliar.
With their looks alone, the two mascots for London 2012 are breaking the mold. And thrust onto their ill-defined shoulders: expectations that these mascots will do for the Games what no others have done before.
I found it a little hard to cozy-up to Wenlock and Mandeville last week when they debuted in London, but that’s a fate I have dealt to just about every Olympic mascot in my 22 years of Olympics coverage. With Around the Rings based in Atlanta, that experience includes plenty of contact with Izzy, the ’96 Games mascot who still carries the rap as worst of the Olympic mascot menagerie.
At least Izzy is memorable. What of the mascots for Athens 2004? How about the cute and cuddlies from Salt Lake City in 2002 - can you name them? And more to the point, will Wenlock and Mandeville be able to pass this same test in 2022?
London 2012 Chairman Seb Coe watches school children play with the costumed figured London mascots. (Getty Images)
London 2012 spin masters say they believe the mascots are being well-received. In general, on-line postings such as on Twitter are supportive of the pair. But they also have attracted slices of scorn. This week noted arbiter of style Terence Conran, the British creative business ambassador, called the mascots “appalling” in a letter to the Times of London.
"What do I say as I hand out Olympic mascots around the world? Ugh?" was the question Conran posed. Others have labeled them as Cyclops, aliens or worse.
But maybe Sir Terence and other critics need to hold their fire a little longer.
With love at first sight a rarity in the public’s relationship with Olympic mascots, let’s see if Wenlock and Mandeville can kindle a burning romance. And what people such as Sir Terence think about these shiny steel critters should not count for much.
Mascot booster and London 2012 chair Sebastian Coe says these symbols of the Games should belong to children.
“They will connect young people with sport and tell the story of our proud Olympic and Paralympic history,” Coe said last week as the pair was unveiled.
“By linking young people to the values of sport, Wenlock and Mandeville will inspire kids to strive to be the best they can be,” said Coe.
That’s the tall order facing these stubby characters. It’s one thing for young people to like the mascots, but whether they lead them to sport is another matter. Past mascots have scored with children, but none have managed to inspire droves of them to take up Olympic sports.
London won the 2012 Olympics in part due to the promise that the Games would bring a new generation to sport, a movement that is desperately needed for the Olympics to thrive in the 21st century. If a pair of mascots can help put London over the line to achieve this goal – regardless of what adults say – so much the better.
That said, the opinions of adults cannot be ignored.
The biting comments of critics will likely get far more attention than adoration from fans.
Adults also hold the purse strings for the millions of dollars London 2012 expects will be spent on licensed products with the mascot image. Sometimes they buy this stuff for themselves or other adults, not just their children.
The first mascot products are supposed to be on sale in time for the July two-years-to-go mark for London, so let’s wait to see how these steely characters translate to plush toys and other trinkets.
I would suggest that the larger-than-life
Wenlock has a swim. (London 2012)
costumed mascots we saw last week at the debut be relegated to a closet and left there and forgotten. They look bizarre and invite ridicule.
A far more charmed setting for Wenlock and Mandeville is the virtual world. So far we have seen them in a delightful animation that explains their genesis. And Wenlock is posing as a swimmer online via Twitter (follow @iamwenlock) and the London 2012 website.
But these aren’t the first instances of Olympic mascots playing the part of an Olympian. Barcelona’s Cobi was a swimmer in his heyday, as was Phevos, the Athens mascot based on an ancient clay doll (talk about un-cuddly). And we’re not sure that Wenlock striking a Usain Bolt pose is enough depth of character to command inspired legions of young runners.
A story line that engages fans to take part in Olympic sport is needed. A virtual life for Wenlock and Mandeville that builds an online community is a must if these characters are to inspire more than consumer demand. London 2012 says its focus groups show the mascots can transcend their ability to sell merchandise.
Forget about us design snobs and jaded know-it-alls.
Let’s hope Wenlock and Mandeville can bring the spirit of the Olympics to the eight-year-olds of the world.
Written by Ed Hula
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