When the official logo of the 2012 London Olympics was released three years ago, the odd puzzle-piece design was the object of so much scorn that organizers were desperate to avoid similar criticism when they unveiled the mascots for the Olympic and Paralympic Games on Wednesday.
Strange blob-like creatures named Wenlock and Mandeville (see the picture above) have one pair of eyes between them and look like Sonic the Hedgehog crossed with a character from the Disney film Monsters Inc. Following the ridicule over the £400,000 Olympic logo, their creators will be hoping that Wenlock and Mandeville get a more favourable reception – even though they too carry the much-mocked 2012 image.
Focus groups of children and families helped form the designs and children’s author Michael Morpurgo added a story concept for an animated series. “We’ve created our mascots for children,” said Locog chair Lord Coe. “They will connect young people with sport, and tell the story of our proud Olympic and Paralympic history.”
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said they were a ‘solid coalition’, adding: “It’s hard to imagine a mascot more in tune with the times.” However, the duo, launched with much fanfare last night on BBC1’s The One Show, require a certain amount of explanation before they begin to make any sense.
First, the names: the characters are named after the small town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire – which hosted a precursor to the modern Olympic Games in the 19th Century – and the birthplace of the Paralympic Games, Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire.
The Wenlock Games gave inspiration to Baron Pierre de Coubertain as he formed his concept of the modern Olympics in 1896. Olympic motifs chime through the design: Wenlock wears the Olympic rings as friendship bracelets, and although predominantly silver in colour, also contains flashes of gold and bronze.
Mandeville’s head reflects aspects of the three crescent shapes of the Paralympics symbol. In a deliberate homage to London taxis, each has a yellow light on top of its head, with an initial in the middle.
In author Morpurgo’s vision, the pair begin life as two drops of steel from a factory in Bolton, taken home by a retiring worker who fashions characters out of the metal for his grandchildren. They appear to have a single central eye, explained as a camera lens, through which they’ll see the world, and respond to it.
In a series of animated updates, linked to the official games website, they will be seen learning to play different Olympic sports in a narrative that will be regularly revised between now and the opening of the Games.
“The children told us a number of things: they weren’t that sold on furry animals and they actually wanted a story,” Coe added. “Youngsters will be able to make a case for the mascots coming to their school if they’ve done something that is inspired by the Games. It’s a way of engaging in a fun way.”
The mascots are an important revenue generating tool for the Games, and Locog’s commercial partners were consulted throughout the design process. They will also be used to front London 2012’s Get Set education programme, which will focus in part on the Olympic values.
The mascots will also form a key part of 2012’s marketing and merchandising, with organisers keen to avoid the controversy which surrounded the unveiling of the Games logo in 2007. A segment of animated footage to promote the logo was also claimed to trigger seizures in a small number of people, prompting it to be removed from the Locog website.
But Locog refused to bow to pressure, saying that the logo, which comes in pink, blue, green and orange, was modern, bold and flexible. The first official mascot – Waldi, a colourful striped dachshund – appeared for the 1972 Summer Games in Munich.