ESPN Network: | | | NASCAR | | | ABCSports | EXPN | FANTASY | INSIDER

 Track & Field
 More Sports   

 Message Board

Tuesday, September 19
More marketing disaster than success

It's not easy being an Olympic mascot. Especially within the last eight years, as animals, people and whatizits have been more representative of marketing disasters than the spirit of the Olympic Games.
Here's Izzy, the affable mascot of the 1996 games. Anyone know what Izzy is? Neither do we.

Mascots have been intimately connected to the Olympics since 1968 in Grenoble, France, when Schuss, a skier with rings on his head, emerged as the unofficial mascot. In 1972, Waldi the Dachsund was the first official Olympic mascot. Waldi was presented as a plastic figurine and was abundant on stickers, posters and buttons. Waldi even reached the ultimate symbol of mascot stardom -- the plush doll.

Since Waldi, animal mascots have outnumbered people mascots 4-to-1. There has been another dog, a beaver, a raccoon, a bear, polar bears, a wolf, an eagle, a tiger, owls, and -- to provide some Australian flavor to this year's games -- a kookaburra, a platypus and an echidna. So, thanks to this year's Olympics -- if all goes well -- American children will be asking their parents for pet echidnas. Or is that echidnai?

Olympic mascots had a great run from 1976 to 1984 -- from Schneemann (the mascot of the 1976 winter games at Innsbruck), a snowman whose design was way ahead of his time, to Uncle Sam, a bald eagle that held an Olympic torch (used in the 1984 Summer Games at Los Angeles). Misha the Bear (Moscow, 1980) and Voochko the Wolf (Sarajevo, 1984) were mascots you actually would want to take home with you.

A mascot is defined as a person, animal or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure, especially to bring them good luck. But by 1988, the word redefined itself. Indeed, something had gone wrong in Olympic mascot land. Immense merchandising and more attention also meant more pressure to be a hit. The 1988 Summer Games in Seoul featured Hodori, a friendly tiger. Hodori was easily recognized. A life-size version walked the Olympic grounds. Yet his female counterpart, Hosuni, was rarely seen. So much for the concept of politically correct in the mascot world.

Calgary's mascots, polar bears Hidy and Howdy, passed without much fanfare in 1988 -- somewhat like the games themselves.

But by 1990, the mascot jinx was in full effect when the originally created mascot for the Winter Games in Albertville -- Chamois the mountain goat -- was scrapped for Magique, the snow imp, which didn't exactly have fans running to the souvenir shops, either.

Worst Olympic mascots
1. Amik (the Beaver) 1976 Summer Games, Montreal -- Probably should have spent more than five minutes designing this one.
2. Magique (the Snow Imp) 1992 Winter Games, Albertville -- Someone actually scrapped another idea for this gem?
3. Izzy (no idea what it was) 1996 Summer Games, Atlanta -- The "Pat" of Olympic Mascots.
4. Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki (the Snow Owls) --1998 Winter Games, Nagano -- Owls across the world are insulted.
5. Hidi and Howdy, 1988 Winter Games, Calgary -- Will someone please call Gund?

--Darren Rovell

Cobi actually made it from the drawing board to the games in Barcelona in 1992, but wasn't really noticed until halfway through the games. He eventually rallied and parleyed his fame into his own TV show in Spain. Hey, not bad for a surreal dog.

The 1996 games in Atlanta featured the ultimate mascot disaster. Atlanta's mascot name was revealed in Barcelona, but its original name -- Whatizit -- confused many people. Organizers had kids vote on a new name, which was reportedly Kirby. But Kirby was trademarked by Nintendo, so the mascot was dubbed "Izzy" (who apparently was part of the Whatizit family). Unlike previous mascots, which were people and animals, Izzy was an ambiguous blue blob.

In the years between Barcelona and the 1996 summer games, designers added some muscle to Izzy, took the stars out of his eyes and added a mouth. He was in stores everywhere, but like Seoul's female Hosuni, apparently not enough life-size Izzys were made to walk around the games. Izzy bashing sites popped up on the Internet, where he was dubbed "Post Chernoble Navel Lint," and "Quasismurf." Time Magazine called Izzy "a sperm in sneakers."

Next up is Nagano. The mascot was originally Snople, the snow weasel. But he was scrapped for four snow owls, that hardly had any snow on them and didn't really look like owls. But they apparently sold like crazy anyway. Two owls obviously didn't get international pronunciation clearance -- Sukki and Tsukki. Everything was great until the jinx resurfaced, as the popular figures were seen endorsing beer and condoms.

And now fast forward to these Olympics, where you will see Olly the Kookaburra, Millie the Echidna and Syd the Platypus, in an effort to make you buy all three, instead of one. While it's great that their names spell out Syd (ney), Olly (mpics) and Millie (nium), here in the United States, it seems like very few people have any clue that these characters existed.

After looking at the Olympics Web site (, this year's mascots could be off to the wrong start.

Apparently, Millie, the echidna, "is a techno whiz and information guru, with all the facts and figures at her fingertips." What facts and figures are we talking about -- IOC violations?

Olly is "a bit on the cocky side. (He) doesn't mind mixing it with the athletes at times." Real nice role model for the kids. Wait, there's more. "Some might say he's a bit of a gossip -- always flying around to find out the latest news, although he sometimes gets it wrong." Lying or misrepresenting the facts, another accurate portrayal of the Olympic spirit for kids.

And Syd just completely lost me. "Even if he doesn't win a race he'll always finish, because it's not so much winning that counts to him as how he plays the game." All of sudden mascots are teaching morals? And yes, the Olympics are entirely about winning.

Sure, the mascots for the 2002 games in Salt Lake City have been selling since last holiday season. And they better be good because the mascots have been given the responsibility of producing a large percentage of the expected $40-$50 million in licensed merchandise for the already cash-burdened and tarnished Olympics. There are a lot of people hoping that Powder the snow hare, Copper the coyote and Coal the bear don't become the latest victims of the mascot jinx, because the next Olympics can't afford it --literally.

In the meantime, sit back and relax, and don't be surprised if Syd gets arrested for drunk driving later this week.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for, can be reached at

 Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
Copyright ©2000 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site.
Archery Rowing
Badminton Sailing
Canoe/Kayak Shooting
Cycling Synchronized Swimming
Equestrian Table Tennis
Fencing Tennis
Field Hockey Triathlon
Handball Water Polo
Judo/Taekwondo Weightlifting
Modern Pentathlon Wrestling