Yes, of course, it is a solemn, grown-up event, complete with a 9.3-billion-pound (Dh53.2 billion) spend, showcasing the best and worst of more than 200 participating nations as well as sports records that break in nanoseconds. But the Olympics are, after all, games.
And regardless of how many medals are at stake, no one takes games more seriously than children who unabashedly own the mascot. Think back to the mascots you remember. Chances are that the one closest to your heart will be related to events when you were about ten — children will listen to the backstory instead of dismissing it; they are likely to be gifted mascot dolls by visiting relatives and, in this case, get one with a McDonald’s Happy Meal.
“The organising committee wanted to engage young people in sport and create a legacy,” says Grant Hunter, Regional Creative Director, Asia, iris Worldwide, the agency that won the job to design the mascot from more than 1,000 submissions.
Hunter’s personal all-time favourite sport mascot is the Mexico ’86 World Cup mascot Pique, a jalapeño pepper. “It’s the one I really remember. I was ten years old and wrote match reports to every game,” Hunter told GN Focus via email.
The story goes that Olympic mascot, Wenlock, and Paralympic mascot, Mandeville, were created from the last drops of steel left over from the construction of the final support girder for the Olympic stadium.
An animated film, based on a story by children’s author Michael Morpurgo, shows how the figures were brought to life and are able to reflect and adapt to their surroundings. Their polished steel skins reflect the personalities and appearance of the people they meet.
The creative team at iris, which included Oskah Manchip, the lead designer, Tony Islam, the 3D artist, Rob Leeks, the product designer, and Hunter as the creative lead, is gratified by the comments from their intended audience. Commenting on an internet board, eight-year-old Jack from Devon says he wishes the mascots would come to his school. Daniel, 13, from Cumbria, says: “They really did think outside the box for this one. It makes me proud that we came up with original ideas, quirky and odd, but still original!”
In the adult world, the mascots have not found many takers. They have been called, among other things, “tinfoil twerps”, “melted mobiles”, “brushed-aluminium Teletubbies”, “computer-generated Smurfs”, and “dire kitsch”.
Hunter says that neither reaction is surprising. “There will always be criticism, but we’re not surprised that it has come from the older stuffier groups of the population — after all the mascots were designed for the next generation. Traditionally, that has meant think of some tie to the nation/club and turn that into a fluffy toy,” says Hunter. “A mascot always has a real-life suited version for kids to interact with. Our product development expert Rob worked with the costume makers to realise the suits.”
Fluffy toys they may be, but these digital mascots are more than that. “They aren’t the mascots, they are your mascots. We want you to make them your own. We asked ourselves, “Why have one mascot when you could have hundreds of thousands?” Customisation lies at the heart of our idea,” says Hunter.
Both mascots have a single eye, which is a camera lens. The camera lets them capture the stories of the people they befriend, the places they visit and the sports they play on their journey to 2012. Both have headlights based on the one on a London taxi. Wenlock also wears the five Olympic rings as friendship wristbands in the five Olympic colours.
“I think the opportunity now is how can the character live in multiple places and create deeper engagement through rich storytelling. Digital platforms are part of that journey, so they have to be considered. Anyone can go online at mascot-games.london2012.com to create their own versions,” says Hunter.
What the company probably did not account for was customisation of the other kind. A 21-year-old student has created an animation in which Wenlock shoots flames out of its eye onto Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. Sports blog Deadspin invited readers to submit parodies of Wenlock and Mandeville. One version includes a horror movie with Wenlock throwing an axe into a door and Mandeville on the other side, leaning back in terror.
Resigned to his mascots living in the digital era, Hunter says, “The history of mascots is far from illustrious.”
1972 Munich - Waldi the dachshund. Smoky, the official mascot for the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, was a real, flesh-and-blood dog born in the Olympic Village
just before the Games. But the
first real mascot was Waldi
1976 Montreal - Amik
1980 Moscow - Misha the bear (left)
1984 Los Angeles - Sam the eagle
1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics - Vucko the wolf
1988 Seoul - Hodori the tiger (right)
1992 Barcelona - Cobi, a Catalan sheepdog, designed in Cubist style inspired by Picasso
1996 Atlanta - Izzy was the first computer-generated mascot.
2000 Sydney - Olly, a kookaburra, Syd, a platypus, and Millie, an echidna, made sure the world did not think Australia is only about kangaroos.
2004 Athens - Athena and Phevos (right), two dolls from an ancient archeological site in Greece, did not go down well with anyone.
2008 Beijing - The Fuwa good luck dolls, Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini
2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics - Quatchi, a mythical eight-foot Sasquatch monster, and Miga, a mythical sea bear said to be part orca and part kermod bear who loves to surf in the summer and snowboard in the winter.