- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2010

LONDON | They’re not furry animals, neither male nor female and have no cutesy names.

London 2012 organizers unveiled the Olympic and Paralympic mascots Wednesday — one-eyed creations from the digital age named after two small English towns.

Officials predicted the mascots — Wenlock and Mandeville — will be a big hit with kids and help inspire young people to get involved in Olympic sports.

“We’ve talked to lots of children and they don’t want cuddly toys,” London 2012 organizing committee chairman Sebastian Coe said. “They want something they can interact with and something with a good story behind it.”

The two mascots are based on a story by children’s author Michael Morpurgo, in which they are formed by a welder from the last drops of steel from the girders of the Olympic Stadium in east London.

An animated film shows the figures brought to life and changing appearance, imitating athletes such as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and British boxer Amir Khan and diver Tom Daley. The film shows them leaving on a journey that will take them across Britain from now until 2012.

“We want it to be fun,” Coe said. “We want it to try to engage and reconnect young people to sport.”

The mascots were unveiled to the media at the St. Paul’s Whitechapel primary school in east London. Children “oohed” and “aahed’ and cheered — perhaps with some advance coaching — when they saw the mascots and hugged and played with life-size versions in the playground. The mascots were later introduced nationally on BBC television.

“I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that the games are anywhere but London,” London Olympics chief executive Paul Deighton said. “I don’t think you have to brand everything as London, London, London. Everyone knows the games are in London.”

Wenlock wears the Olympic rings as friendship bracelets, and its head is formed in the shape of a medals podium. Mandeville’s head is shaped like a bicycle racing helmet. Each mascot has a single eye in the middle of its face representing a camera lens that will capture their experiences on the way to 2012.

Organizers said the mascots can be customized into different appearances and guises. One image shows them in red, white and blue Union Jack outfits.

Children will be able to interact with the mascots on their website and invite them to visit their schools and communities. Created by marketing agency Iris, each mascot will have its own Facebook and Twitter page.

“Why have one mascot when you can have millions?” designer Grant Hunter said. “It’s a unique mascot, a world first. Everyone can make their own.”

A limited run of T-shirts and pins went on sale Wednesday, but mascot toys won’t be available until the two-years-to-go milestone on July 27. The mascots are also expected to feature in a cartoon series ahead of the games.

Organizers hope the mascots will receive a more positive reaction than the London 2012 logo, which was widely panned when it was unveiled in 2007 and was even blamed for triggering seizures among some television viewers.

The mascots will also be an important revenue-raising tool for meeting the London organizing committee’s $3 billion operating budget. Deighton said the sale of mascots should raise 10-20 percent of London’s merchandising budget of $106 million.

The first official Olympic mascot was a colorful dachshund named Waldi at the 1972 Munich Games. Others have included Amik the beaver in Montreal 1972, Misha the bear in Moscow 1980, Sam the eagle in Los Angeles 1984 and Cobi the surreal dog in Barcelona 1992. The 2008 Beijing Games featured five mascots — a panda, antelope, swallow, fish and flame.

One of the most derided mascots in Olympic history was “Izzy,” the amorphous blob from the 1996 Atlanta Games.

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Online:

www.london2012.com/mascots