From Schneeman the snowman to Magique the imp, Olympic mascots have always been a strange part of the games. As cyclopean brothers Wenlock and Mandeville blob across the city this year with both one eyes on the prize, London 2012 is no exception. We take a look at Olympic mascots through the years and wonder: what on earth?
Mr Muscle, Tony the Tiger, Ronald Mcdonald, Hello Kitty, Big Boy, Captain Crunch and Coco the Monkey. The friendly mascot has always been one of the most lucrative ways of sticking a smile on a brand. But while these household heavy weights usually represent the qualities of their product in quite an obvious (albeit surreal) way, the Olympic mascot is a whole ‘nother ball game.
Historically a sports mascot is meant to bring luck to the team it is parading in front of. The figure of the Olympic mascot, however, does not always overtly support the host country that made it, but often reflects ideals of hospitality, strength and agility too. Invented for the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, the abstract arm-less skier Schuss was the first unofficial mascot who, unfortunately, came to be known as ‘the skiing sperm.’ While the nickname was clearly a joke, it actually says something quite relevant about the global attitude towards the Olympics: are the games not, after all, a survival of the fittest?
While Schuss was the first unofficial mascot, in 1972 for the Munich Summer Olympics Waldi the stripy long-haired daschund became the first official mascot, available in a variety of colours. Whether this chameleon characteristic was meant to represent the diversity of the Games and the coming together of different races, or just a lucrative plan to optimise sales, is disputable. Like most mascots after him, Waldi was not meant to be aggressive or intimidating to his guests; a characteristic reflected in his rainbow colour scheme. With artist Otl Aicher making sure to exclude the two colours that related to the Nazi Party (red and black), the first official mascot ended up looking like the result of a sausage dog having cross-bred with a Rocket ice lolly.
Waldi’s weirdness became a sort of bench mark for the Olympic mascots after him. Many countries followed lead by also using animals that represented their countries. For the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Amik the Beaver represented the national animal of Canada. The same goes for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles with Sam the Bald Eagle and the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow with Misha the Bear (a symbol of the Soviet Union).
While not necessarily as patriotic, the designs behind some other mascots have been based on logic. Both Schneeman the snowman (1976 Innsbruck), Hidy and Howdy the cowboy/girl polar bears (1988 Calgary), and Magique the man-star/snow imp (Albertville 1992) represented The Winter Olympics through their snowy habitats. Logical, yes, but also daft. While many mascots like Hidy and Howdy have been overtly friendly too (if not utterly terrifying), others have invited the world in a more obscurely friendly way: for the 1984 Winter Olympics Saravejo chose the wolf as their mascot. This choice needed explaining as, apparently, it symbolised the desire for animals to befriend humans, and not the common perception of wolves being frightening and bloodthirsty.
However strange and far-fetched a host country’s mascots have been, this year surely tops them all. Wenlock and Mandeville are the brain children of London-based creative agency Iris, who must have been hyper-conscious of ‘keeping it P.C.’ With Wenlock representing the Olympics and Mandeville the Paralympics, both also have a shiny coat of skin made of steel that can reflect the personalities of whoever they meet. As such, these mascots may be super weird and somewhat over thought, but also extremely friendly in their nondescript appearance. Wenlock even has five ‘friendship bracelets’, meant to represent the Olympic rings.
By representing something that is unlike anything we know, the London 2012 mascots are a strange contradiction: they are meant to be mirrors, yet look like nothing else on this earth. As such, Wenlock and Mandeville are an easy punchbag for the more ridiculous aspects of the Olympics. We should just be grateful its not skiing sperm again.
By Zara Miller