Yesterday the London 2012 Olympics, owners of what may be the most widely panned logo in history, revealed yet another frightening piece of their fragmented branding puzzle: Olympic mascots Mandeville and Wenlock. As the legend goes, the cycloptic blobs were created from the last two drops of British steel used for the London 2012 Olympic Stadium (they built that thing with steel drops?). “That’s why we’re so shiny,” they say on their Web site,” reflecting the people, places and things we meet along the way as we travel around the U.K.”
No one should get too upset about this: Olympic mascots have rarely predicted the success of the actual games. In fact, the best mascots have emblemized the most disastrous games. Here are our official findings.
The very first Olympic mascot was created for the 1972 Munich games. Design legend Otl Aicher’s cherished identity for the games used variations on Olympic colors but specifically did not use red or black because of their Nazi connotations. Waldi, a Dachshund, became a symbol of pride for Germans, who hoped to show the world a new, violence-free Germany. But the Munich games themselves were overshadowed by the horrific hostage crisis chronicled in the film Munich.
Four years later, a beaver took the starring role for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the only summer games ever to be played in Canada. As part of a beautiful identity designed by Yvon Laroche, Pierre-Yves Pelletier, Guy St-Arnaud and George Huel, admittedly, Amik looked much better rendered in sleek modernist forms on the poster than he did as a lifeless toupée. But Montreal’s games were such an utter financial disaster–the stadium didn’t get finished until after the games, and even then at a $1.5 billion debt to the city–that any economic troubles found in the city today can be attributed to the appearance of this beaver.
Say what you will about Victor Chizhikov’s awkward-looking Misha with its aloof Communist grin and belt made from brass knuckles. This mascot helped warm Moscow’s hearts during the coldest Olympics of all: The boycotted games of 1980. Even as over 60 nations refused to compete due to the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan, Misha’s cuddly, watercolored outlines brought a sense of pride and solidarity to Moscow’s residents. He was also the first mascot to star in his own cartoon show.
Here’s Sam the Eagle (not to be confused with Muppet Sam the Eagle), designed by C. Robert Moore, who worked for Disney. It was 1984 and the games were in Los Angeles. Okay, a little Disney never hurt anyone, but let’s be honest: This bald eagle looks like a chicken. Still, Los Angeles was able to parlay revenues–including lucrative TV broadcast deals–into a huge moneymaker for the city, making it the first American games that didn’t rely on any government funding. These bird-legged games were the biggest financial success in Olympic history, raking in a $223 million profit.
Hodori was the sorry-looking tiger created for the 1988 Seoul Olympics by Kim Hyund, who was apparently heavily influenced by Kellogg’s cereal and Garfield. Like the odd ribbon-hat that swirls around Hodori, national turmoil prefaced the Seoul games, including political unrest that forced its president out of power. But the games gave Seoul a chance to pack away its troubled past and present South Korea as a cultural center of Asia, launching new trade relationships and positioning it as a fresh face of democracy. Even if that face was bright orange.
An anthropomorphic Cobi the Catalan sheepdog was designed for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Spanish designer Javier Mariscal was supposedly inspired by Picasso, hence the two eyes on the front of the head. Although residents at first despised Cobi for bastardizing Picasso and not being dog-like enough, by the end of the games, Cobi became a beloved symbol of the city, and Barcelona’s revitalized urban center experienced a boom of tourism that turned it into world-class destination. All thanks to ugly sideways-eyed Cobi.
It’s difficult to know what to say about Izzy the Whatizit, mascot for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. This gladiator of LSD was named by a group of schoolchildren but was known best to Atlantans as the “Sperm in Sneakers.” It was also the first computer-rendered mascot, designed by John Ryan, and underwent several updates to its figure to make it appear more athletic. The same could be said for Atlanta, which underwent such significant development the Olympics were credited with modernizing the city. Smart corporate sponsorships resulted in yet another Olympic games profit. Go Izzy!
Olly, Syd and Millie were not members of an aging punk band nor technicolor demons sent to destroy us from another dimension but a kookaburra, platypus and echidna picked to represent the Sydney Olympics. Designed by Matthew Hattan, their wild, ’90s-hangover illustrative style frightened children, but it sure looked at home on customized cans of Coke. These games–the largest to date–were widely considered to be the “best summer games ever,” a quote attributed to International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch during the closing ceremony.
Phevos and Athena, siblings named after Greek gods, were modeled to look like ancient statuary for the 2004 games. The mascots were widely panned for belittling Greek culture and for representing deities in such a crude way. But they sure did make great Beanie Babies. Despite the Dark Ages look of the mascots, these Olympics helped bring Athens into the modern world, overhauling their technological capabiities and urban infrastructure, and resulting in massive improvements to their airport and public transit (although now, sadly many of the venues have fallen into disrepair).
The Beijing mascots for the 2008 games were named the Fuwa, five anime-like creatures meant to be rendered in traditional Chinese folk art style, but were just creepy reminders that China’s mascot population is five times that of the rest of the world. (Also? The middle one’s head is on fire.) The jury is still out on the Beijing games–it will take a few years to see its true economic impact, as well as how it affected China’s larger issues like censorship and human rights. But perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from the story of the artist who worked on these mascots: Han Mellin was forced to draw over 1000 figures before the government could decide on these five. The 72-year-old suffered two heart attacks during the process and became so frustrated with the project he has since refused credit for them.