Whatever else the London Olympics accomplish, Atlantans should be grateful for one thing: moving our 1996 mascot Izzy down on the list of most bizarre Olympic mascots.Atlanta’s mascot began life as “Whatizit” but when that name, unbelievably, didn’t catch on, it was shortened to the punchier, pithier “Izzy.” He (she? it?) was widely derided for its cross-eyed face and blobby shape. AJC columnist Colin Campbell described Izzy as “a toothy blue maggot with a case of gas.” And that was one of the kinder descriptions.
But now come the London mascots — there are two of them — Wenlock and Mandeville, whose strange appearance makes Izzy look rather conventional.
Londoners and visitors are apparently not enamored of the pair, the AP reports.
Since they were selected as the official mascots back in 2009, detractors have had a field day with the pair, questioning how faceless monsters fashioned out of “drops of steel” — the duo’s creation story — won out over 100 other designs by artists and agencies.
“It’s not so friendly,” said Jenny Zhang, looking at a Wenlock while in London from China for business. “We don’t see a smiling face, it’s not a friendly eye. It’s just watching you.”
Their watchful eyes — described in many forums as toy versions of London’s omnipresent CCTV lenses — seem to have caused the most discomfort, drawing Orwellian comparisons and references to surveillance states. Wenlock figurines in police gear have come under fire from dozens of online commenters decrying the “fascist playthings” and “totalitarian toys.”
Actor Ewan McGregor tweeted his disappointment after seeing plastic mascot statutes in London’s Regents Park: “With this country’s artistic heritage this one eyed joke made me sad.”
But at least the mascots’ names, unlike Izzy, bear some relevance to the Olympics.
Wenlock was named after the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock, which helped inspire Pierre de Coubertin to found the modern Olympics; Mandeville is named for Stoke Mandeville, the town where the Paralympics began.
The pair are likely to be featured in some form Friday during the Opening Ceremony, with an estimated television audience of 4 billion watching. And if the critics are right, this time the mascots may be watching back.
What are your memories of Izzy and the Atlanta Olympics — good, bad, or in the words of Juan Antonio Samaranch, “exceptional?”