Saturday, August 30, 2008

Corollary on Google

In answer to my own question from the other day, OF COURSE Google had a special logo for the Olympics. Google has had a spLinkecial logo for ALL the Olympics. And I would love nothing more than to share them all with you, with commentary, right here on this blog, but the Google website expresses a "passionate" (no kidding) desire to maintain the sanctity of the Google Logo and associated Doodles by not having them posted all over the Internets, and getting sued by Google is one of the scarier things I think could happen to me.. I could probably come up with worse, but they would probably involve a clumsy weightlifter, 2,008 angry Chinese drummers*, and the uneven bars, and in general do not bear thinking about.

So I direct all interested parties to Google's specialty logo archives, where you can see just how much Google loves the Olympics. (Particular attention should go to the one for Athens in 2004, where Zeus appears to be lighting the torch with actual lightening.)

*I'm thinking that if China had come up with the Twelve Days of Christmas, it would have looked a lot like the Opening Ceremonies. Dear West, we see your twelve lords a-leaping and raise them a couple thousand tai chi artists in perfect rings. And we'll throw in a partridge just for good measure, but we haven't tested it for human growth hormone. Someone needs to write that song...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Google for Gold

Post-game on Beijing later. For now, I give you a tour of the Olympic Host Cities, courtesy of Google Maps and the awesome power of people with too little to do with their time. (Totally unlike me.)

Around the World in Five Rings

I am holding out for the installation of a Google insta-locator chip (you know they've got them) on the torch, so you can Google its precise location in real time and possibly see it getting hijacked by Free Tibeters in San Francisco. If Google doesn't cause the implosion of social activism simply by making it way too easy to find, I don't know what will.

Also, as incredible as this seems, I don't think I actually went to the Google homepage at all while the Olympics were on. Did they have a theme logo? I mean, they've already got the two O's and the primary colors thing going on, it's like it was meant to be...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mr. Kite Goes To The Olympics

Mount Olympics has returned from its hiatus, although unfortunately, as she explains in the previous post, your primary host’s commitment to saving the free world means that real-time Olympics coverage will be provided by someone not quite as funny or as Olympic-a-rific. Although I can still fangirl pretty respectably, I’m more of a causal Olympics aficionado. Specifically, I’m still pretty surprised by a lot of the things that go on during this celebration of international cooperation and athleticism. The amount of prime-time coverage given to beach volleyball, for example, is pretty stunning. The ability of diving commentators to point out five or six flaws in a synchronized dive that lasted .023 seconds, takeoff to splashdown, leaves me in awe. And every now and then I discover (usually on the Canadian cable channel, which is not quite as fixated on the bikini-clad beach volleyballers as NBC), a sport which I had never realized had a place at the Olympics. Tonight, that sport was the Trampoline.

You can purchase Olympic trampolines on the Internet, as it turns out. Professional-grade trampolines come in your regular, Olympic, and Australian varieties (the difference between the last two being that the Australian one flushes the other way, probably?) although the Chinese spotters are sold separately and your mother probably wouldn’t allow any of them in the backyard.

Wikipedia cites the earliest precursors of the trampoline as a European or possibly Inuit (Spain, Alaska, whatever) form of “quasi-judicial, mob-administered punishment” in which the offending party was bounced up in the air on a blanket. Which goes to show that if you had to get on the wrong side of a mob in medieval Europe (or the Pre-Columbian Yukon, either one), it was way better to do it when the mob was buzzed on fruity cocktails and could only find the springy blankets than when they they were in more of a rock-throwing mood. It also kind of begs the question of how many current Olympic sports were once vigilante activities, and why guillotining never made the cut.

Anyway, at some point the trampoline made its way out of the igloo and into the circus, where it may or may not have been invented by an artiste named Du Trampolin for the benefit of Mr. Kite (I am not making this up, go check Wikipedia for yourself). It was prominently featured in acrobatic acts called “bouncing beds,” which were probably exactly what they sound like. I’m not sure whether the misguided Victorian sense of the erotic led these acts to be filed under “titillating” or whether they were just hilarious, but what with one thing and another it is probably safe to say that this was where we got the cautionary tale of the Five Little Monkeys.

The modern trampoline was invented (anyone else notice that we’ve now invented the trampoline at least three times? Yeah.) by a couple of Iowan gymnasts named Nissen and Griswold in 1934. And from there it was pretty much a straight hop, skip and a jump into the rings of Olympic history. Actually it wasn’t, really, although both Nissen and Griswold were competitive tumblers who today would have formed the Trampoline Lobby and gotten the IOC to approve it immediately as critical to the preservation of ancient Inuit Mob Gymnastics. Instead, they used it to train tumblers and to make loads of money entertaining small children and terrifying mothers throughout Cedar Rapids. With the advent of World War II, and I swear I am not making this up, trampolines were used in the training of US Navy pilots for the following objectives which deserve to be directly quoted, and also a picture:
  1. Reduce fear of being upside down, of falling or revolving in midair.
  2. To afford practice in relocation after body revolutions and in sensing relocation while revolving in various positions.
  3. To learn balance and body control while in the air.
  4. To develop oneness with the plane.
  5. To acquire self-confidence in the air.

Clearly, it surpasses mortal understanding why a device that can simultaneously train tumblers, cause civil suit lawyers to lurk defensively at the edge of children’s birthday parties, provide wholesome and bouncy mob punishment fun for the whole family, AND “develop oneness with the plane” was not IMMEDIATELY adopted by the Olympics as the Best Sport Ever. By 1958, at least, competitive trampolining was well-established enough to create a brouhaha over rules and time limits in the NCAA regulations. It has had a fickle relationship with traditional (i.e. not descended from the mob) gymnastics over the years, until on a joyous New Year’s Day in 1999, the International Trampoline Federation voted to merge with the International Gymnastics Federation, paving the way for trampoline sports (trampoline, tumbling, and double-mini trampoline) to be included in the 2000 Sydney Games. The eight intervening years, of course, have been enough time for the Russians to think they were totally dominant and then tank, and for 60-pound Chinese girls to get good enough to kick everyone else’s ass. In case you were wondering: in the women’s trampoline competition tonight, Wenna He of China took gold, Karen Cockburn of Canada took silver, and Ekaterina Khilko of Uzbekistan (for serious) took bronze (and BOY was she happy about it). Not that there’s a good reason NOT to be happy about being the third best in the world at jumping up and down on a giant sproingy surface that makes you feel like you’re flying.

It does not get more Olympian than that. (also the picture of the shirtless, planeless WWII Navy pilot.)
And of course,

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Contributor!

Hello readers! As you may have noticed, I fell off the face of the earth. This was a sad ocurrance, one filled with sorrow and regret for all the fun that has been had for the past month. Time does not stop for the Olympics, as it turns out.

It is with great excitement and the promise of new and great things that we here at Mount Olympics welcome a new contributor, Emily (who you may know from the only comments this blog ever gets). In celebration, I will post a portion of a wonderful email she sent me when I tragically missed the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Prepare yourselves for something beautiful. Also long. But beautiful, so beautiful.

In China, the hydraulics are run by people!

Or in other words, when you have an unlimited budget, a billion people standing around waiting to walk upside down on a giant inflatable globe, and an authoritarian regime that says "Give us the biggest spectacle in world history! I mean ever!", you can really put on a show.

It was pretty cool.

It started with 2008 drummers (there were 2008 of everything. You know how normally, like in Salt Lake for example, you have maybe 150 performers and people are really impressed? China has so many performers at its disposal that when you looked at things from the top of the stadium, it appeared pixellated.) Each drummer had a big square drum that lit up when they touched it, and there were wave effects, and star bursts, and water droplets, and finally a one-minute countdown clock (this is so hard to describe. You have two blocks of 1004 drummers arranged in two giant rectangles, right? And seen from the top, each drum is a light cell. And the drummers alternate hitting their drums so that the numbers "60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1" blink on and off, dance across the screen, etc. It was like the world's biggest digital readerboard, basically, powered by percussion.) When the countdown reached one, fireworks start going off from Tiananmen Square all the way down to the stadium, and when they go off they are shaped like giant footprints. Specifically, the Footprints of History. And then they get to the stadium, and fireworks go off around the rim of the stadium for a while. I have a personal theory that whenever President Bush started to look bored, someone in the back was like, "quick, wake him up! More fireworks!" This happened...a lot.

The drummers finish their drumming thing, and Matt Lauer, who I think was expecting something on the order of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade because the EPICNESS of the night was sort of lost on him, helpfully pointed out that earlier in the day when they were rehearsing, 2008 serious-faced Chinese men in silvery suits banging on gigantic drums, the effect was kind of intimidating. So apparently they were told to smile more. And boy, were they smiling. I want to believe they were actually outrageously excited to be there, which seems likely, but then again if the director of the Beijing Olympics told you to look happy, dammit, you'd probably look happy regardless.

Then the drummers rolled off stage with amazingly little bustle, although we might have missed it during the commercials. Budweiser was recycling the last several years' worth of its Super Bowl ads (The Great American Lager! Now Made By Belgium!) but everyone else was more on message. Visa's were pretty great (Go World!). Then some fairies started flying around in harnesses. Matt Lauer said they represented the three great Chinese philosophical traditions of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, but I think he didn't know what he was talking about. They were fairies. Oh, and the Olympic rings floated around for a while too, looking very sparkly. Then 56 small children wearing the costumes of China's 56 ethnic groups, which universally included white lacy socks and mary janes, and sometimes cowboy hats (who knew?) brought in the flag, and it was raised, and a little girl sang the national anthem. Yay, China.

Next another fairy, or possibly a bodhisattva, was carried in while dancing on a giant canvas platform held up by a few thousand men. Then the fairies and the men went away, leaving the giant canvas on the ground, where it unrolled into what we were told was the world's biggest LED screen. It looked like a hundred foot long video Torah. AND THEN the Dancing Calligraphers came on. They were about 15 modern dancers in black costumes that were somehow covered in markers or ink or something, because while they were dancing they were making a giant landscape painting. Like a couple of them would do this rolling-leapy thing, and then there would be a mountain range. And one of them would spin with his leg on the ground, and suddenly there was a sun. It was CRAZY. (Wikipedia says they "left their squirming trails on a block of white paper," which does not capture it at all.) I want to know where THAT kind of dance is offered.

NOTE: There has to have been some magic involved in this next part. The giant scroll-painting thing kept showing up throughout the night, and yet it also kept turning into completely different things and then reappearing with no explanation. Stupid TV. By the time we'd heard from Budweiser again (This Is Beer!) the scroll had become a giant Chinese printing press. For real. It was a giant square of big grey blocks, each with a Chinese character on the top, that moved up and down to form lines from the Analects, ripples of water, etc., etc., etc., and eventually the Great Wall, which then exploded into cherry blossoms. This section went on for like 10 minutes, and you can imagine the intense discussions going on among us watching at home about how they were doing this. Computer-operated hydraulics was the best guess. BUT NO! Why, indeed, would a country with more manpower than anything else waste things like electricity when they could just use people standing up and down! At the very end, after the cherry blossoms, the blocks popped open and more (smiling) performers stuck their heads out and waved.

Okay. At this point, I am reading the Wikipedia article to refresh my memory, and I am pretty sure it was written by Chinese propagandists. It's hilarious. If you get a chance, go look at it and revel in the "a sea of rainbow-coloured luminescent performers swayed in wave-like unison to symbolize the flow of the Yellow River"-osity. I would probably have described the rainbow-colored luminescent performers as a couple thousand girls in fancy dresses while the American commentators made ridiculous comments about how all Chinese women are this graceful, as a rule. (What annoyed me about this was not so much the racial stereotyping as the lack of credit to the performers' dance training. And their rainbow-luminosity...thingy.) Actually, while the costumes were super impressive and the dancing was pretty, it wasn't all that exciting compared with the rest of the evening. Next, to celebrate China's glorious naval history (we did a lot of celebrating how great China has been since basically forever. It turns out there's a lot there to have spectacle about!) they brought in another couple thousand guys each carrying a giant canoe paddle. They were painted such that the performers could group together and make a screen with their paddles showing a picture of old Chinese warships. They could also make warships OUT of the canoe paddles by sweeping them around in various ways. It doesn't sound that exciting, but the effect was way cool.

[Forming a circle of dancers isn't just difficult.] It's HARD. Even approximate circles are hard, when you have a group of 8 or so people moving as a group. Okay, now picture, you guessed it, 2000 people, all individually doing crazy tai chi/karate stuff, IN TEN RINGS OF PERFECT CONCENTRIC CIRCLES. I don't know how they did that. It was phenomenal. Meanwhile, the giant canvas from the body-painting exercise is still on the floor, having recovered from its giant printing press incarnation, and a large pile of happy children are playing on it reciting confucian poetry and improving the painting. While the crazy concentric circles of karate go on around them. This, and I am not making this up, symbolized the environmental challenges the future generation would face and need to overcome, as the forces of nature react to mankind's abuse. It's there to show China's commitment to having a green Games.

Yes. It's comforting to know that in the fight against global warming, China will bring the tai chi artists. And the chanting schoolchildren. I can't imagine why no one ever thought of this before. And, by the way, fireworks are going of pretty much this whole time.

But it's okay, because you know the children are going to triumph over this challenge! And the way you know that is when they get up and leave, the sun on the giant canvas painting now has a ridiculously cute smiley face on it! True story!

Once again, I am not sure what they did to the canvas to accomplish this next part. Because China has entered the Space Age, and a giant globe (no, really) is emerging from the center of the stadium floor. It's kind of like a paper Japanese lantern, only it's like 50 feet tall, lit up like the planet Earth, and has Sarah Brightman and some Chinese singer standing on top. Oh, and in between every one of the horizontal ribs (keep thinking of the Japanese lantern, it will help) there are a dozen people running horizontally along its surface. They had fun with the flying harnesses, these folks did. This was my favorite part. And in the meantime--did I mention that the upper rim of the entire stadium was also a giant movie screen? It was currently broadcasting pictures of the universe.

Eventually the giant globe went away, and I was kind of sad about that. I could have watched that for a long time. But in its place, lest we forget that China hasn't run out of people yet, came 2008 guys in bright green unitards that lit up with blue and green christmas lights at various times. And they danced around quite a bit, and made a giant dove, and the poor guys in the wings had to run back and forth to make the dove fly. Matt Lauer had gone on a bit of a tangent at this point and was waxing poetic about how China has emerged from the authoritarian darkness of communism and was now filled with the peaceful, happy prospect of people choosing their own destinies! And buying American debt! And then he went back to his performance-related tidbit cue cards, and informed us (practically in the same breath as this paean to Chinese individual self-determinism) that two days before the show, the director decided he didn't like the existing unitards, which were black, and demanded that another 2008 be made in green. Because once again, when someone comes to your Beijing costume shop and says "I need 2008 new costumes made by tomorrow," you say "Yes sir, how high?" Somehow Lauer's head didn't explode here. It was a little disappointing.

The length of this is getting absurd, I hope you're reading in installments. So I'll pass quickly over the parade of athletes with the following details:
  • The whole stadium was flanked by probably 2008 cheerleaders in white skirts and high-heeled white cowboy boots, who had to stand up and clap and stomp and cheer for about two and a half hours. And it was so hot that the heads of state were dripping. Those girls had the worst job of the evening, for serious.
  • The girls who carried the signs in front of each country had MUCH better dresses than the ones from Turin. Much more with the red and gold silk and much less with the ski slope dioramas on ON THE SKIRT.
  • Canada's fashion sense has improved moderately since the last Olympics, but the Americans got hijacked by a Ralph Lauren makeover team which makes them look like a lost yachting club in absurd hats. The Hungarians, even more unfortunately, showed up wearing red and white splotched tablecloths. As usual, most of the Africans were wearing caftans that were a) gorgeous b) regal and c) really comfortable looking.
  • We're not done with the canvas yet--oh no! It was lying on the ground in the middle of the arena again, and this time there were giant ink pads in front of it in rainbow colors. As the athletes marched up the center, they walked through the ink and tracked a rainbow onto the paper. This Olympics is all about the bodily art, I guess.
  • Vladimir Putin gets docked for Class A BAD FORM for starting a war from the Olympics. You should not be allowed to DO that.
  • China's flag was carried in by Yao Ming, accompanied by an eight-year-old boy who came approximately up to his knee. For a minute we thought it was comic relief, and they explained that he was from Sichuan, and had dug himself out of the rubble of his school after the earthquake and then rescued two of his classmates before any adults found them. When they asked him why he hadn't just run away when he got out, he said he was a class leader and he was supposed to make sure everyone got out safely. So that was...oof.
Okay, enough athletes, it's all about them now anyway. But first the torch! I was so excited for this part. They ran it in, passed it off to various former Chinese athletes around the stadium, and then when it got to the last guy...yes! He FLEW! And then he RAN, in slow motion, THROUGH THE AIR, ALL THE WAY AROUND THE TOP OF THE STADIUM, while the screen behind him played images of the whole torch relay minus the protests, and then he lit the end of a long pipe that carried the flame up the torch in a giant spiral and then stayed lit. And then there were more fireworks than I have ever seen. And it was AWESOME.

Okay, it's Lexie again. I have a question for Emily, perhaps to start us off. What is the most ridiculously misplaced expression of patriotism you have seen so far at the games? Describe and provide photos where available.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Coming Soon: The history of China and International Sports!


As a teaser, I would like to say that I am really, REALLY enjoying the current Story arc over at the web comic Penny Arcade. Not that they need my endorsement-- it's one of the most popular websites out there. They have taken ping pong diplomacy (post soon, I promise!) to a whole new level.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I wonder if this is how David Wallechinski feels all the time...

I by no means have sole rights to anything related to the Olympics. Clearly. For I am a humble blogger from the recesses of the American Southwest, with absolutely no chance to go to Beijing, to spend a bunch of money on mascot paraphernalia (or to even spell "paraphernalia" right without a spell checker), or to become involved in any more tangible way with the Olympics. And yet... when the NYTimes posts things like that cracked out Chinese mascots video I posted, like, two months ago, I get a little territorial. Or when they mention Sebastian Coe, no matter how briefly. He's MINE. I just spent, like, five hours researching him. DAMMIT.

Their latest post is a Q&A session with David Wallechinski, the preeminent expert on the modern Olympics. He's even published books on it and everything. I'll bet he spends all his days up to his ears in mascot paraphernalia (see, I'm getting better at it). And then, every couple of years, the rest of the world catches on that this might be a fun thing to talk about at length. And he has to scream "THAT'S WHAT I'VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU. BUT YOU NEVER LISTEN."

So, remember, NYTimes blog, I was here before you. And I know you have "journalists" and "ads" and "interviews with David Wallechinski," but I've got heart and a lot of tenacity.

And if I've learned anything about the Olympics, it's that tenacity is what counts. Also corporate funding. But mostly tenacity.

PS-- Be sure to check out the epic post below about public figures and their Olympic accomplishments. One of the best things about it, that maybe I didn't make clear enough in the post itself, is just how stereotypically wonderful each athlete's chosen sport matches their country of origin. An American basketball player? A Russian wrestler? A Pakistani cricket player? An Australian swimmer? All we need now is a Canadian figure skater, and we'd be set. Oh wait.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Athletes Turned Politicians (turned athletes?)

As a credential for public office, former Olympic athlete is fairly impressive. As a resume boost, it comes in right above nationally recognized former talk show host but below astronaut. Very little actually beats astronaut, as many a slain klingon will tell you. But just how many politicians can trace their roots to this most nationalistic of sporting enterprises? And just how hilariously stereotypical can their sports be?

This is by no means an exhaustive list (this is the sort of list I came up with given about an hour's prep time and unrestricted Google access), but it covers some of the more famous Olympians-turned-public servants... as well as some of the less famous but significantly more hilarious ones.

Bill Bradley: 1964 Gold Medalist in Basketball, US Senator from 1979-1997

Superior passing ability-- what I look for in a president.

It wasn't merely his exceptional record of service in the US Senate that gave this New Jersey Democrat the tenacity to oppose then Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic nomination for president. It was also the leadership ability he displayed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as the captain of the US Basketball team. Clearly.

Sebastian Coe, Baron Coe, KBE: 1980 and 1984 Gold Medalist in 1500m race and British Parliamentarian

Running strong for the Conservative Party

Sebastian Coe is not only a two-time Gold medalist in the 1500 meter race, not just the current Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and not just a former Conservative Parliamentarian, but also a Knight of the British Empire. How cool is that?

(FYI, this is why you read this blog. So that you don't have to look at sites like this. My eyes! My ears!)

Otto Jelinek: Figure Skated in 1960 Rome Olympics and Canadian Minister of Multiculturalism

Figure skating costumes were classier in black and white.

Otto and his sister Maria were the first to perform lifts with several rotations, a skill that would come in handy later-- I can only assume that the job of Minister of National Revenue requires some heavy lifting and... rotating?

...I don't even know what that's supposed to mean.

Dawn Fraser: Eight-time Medalist and Member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Also, Official Australian National Living Treasure.

If only you were this cool.

Dawn Fraser is a kick-ass woman. In her swimming career, she held 39 records, won eight medals (four gold, four silver), won gold in the same event at three successive Olympics, and was the first woman to break 1:00 in the 100 Freestyle (breaking her own previous record). In fact, she held the record for the 100 Freestyle for more than 15 years!

But, she was, as Wikipedia says, a larrikin. (Don't worry, I had to look it up too. According to Wikipedia, larrikinism is "a uniquely Australian folk tradition of irreverence, mockery of authority and disregard for rigid norms of propriety.") The Australian Swimming Union put her under a ten-year swimming ban in 1965 after some antics at the Tokyo Olympics. (Great name for a rock band idea #507: Antics at the Tokyo Olympics.) She apparently marched in the Opening Ceremony against the wishes of organizers, wore a non-regulation swimsuit because it was more comfortable (scandal!), and allegedly climbed a flagpole in Emperor Hirohito's palace, stealing the Olympic flag. So... that's how to get you suspended from swimming for a decade, just in case you were wondering. Steal the Japanese Emperor's flag.

Embracing her early retirement, Fraser eventually went on to become a member of the New South Wales Parliament between 1988 and 1991. When the Olympics came to Sydney, of course, she was a torch bearer on the final stretch of the relay. It's really the least the Olympics could do to honor her true awesomeness.

Alexander Karelin: Russian Wrestler and Member of Russian Duma

Hey, I know, let's make this image reflect as much of the Cold War mentality as possible. You know, metaphorically speaking, Capitalist Pig-Dog.

Alexander Karelin competed in four Olympics, from the 1980s on. In fact, his tenure as Greco-Roman Wrestling Gold Medalist outlasted his country. Thanks in part to his trademark Karelin Lift (where he would literally lift and drop his 250+ pound opponent), he went undefeated from 1987 until 2000. He had to fit his Olympic training regime into his busy campaigning schedule in the lead up to the 2000 Sidney games.

Unstoppable and uniquely terrifying strongman and close personal friend of Vladimir Putin who can bash the opposition into the ground? Sounds about right for Russian politics.

And that's all for me, folks. Join us next time when we will present something else about the Olympics or something.

For further reading, look to:

USAToday, How to beat an Olympian incumbent: Unfortunately, despite the headline, the article offers little practical advise., Winning at Olympia: Rocking it old school style with Archibaldes, the Athenian politician and general who entered seven chariots in the 416 B.C. games. He basically swept, winning first, second, and either third or fourth places.

NYTimes, Bob Mathias, 75, Decathlete and Politician, Dies: The Gold medal winner and four term Congressman was "modest, clean-cut and self-confident, the epitome of the all-American boy." Well, duh. He was an OLYMPIAN. They do these kinds of things.

Ireland and the Spanish Civil War, Olympians and the War: Not one but two Irish Olympians who were also politicians fought and died in the Spanish Civil War. Hooray for awkwardly specific history! (One was named Eoin O'Duffy. It doesn't get any more Irish than that, seriously.)


Honorary Mention:

Imran Khan, Hot Pakistani Cricketer and Cancer Crusader

Look at that social conscience. Just look at it.

DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER: Cricket is not an Olympic sport. Deal. It's my blog, I do what I want!

Imran Khan was one of the hottest Cricket players alive, and not just for his superior bowling skills. Described by many as "the Brad Pitt of Cricket," he led Pakistan to win the 1992 World Cup title. After he retired from Cricket, he was ready to live a quiet life of philanthropy. Pakistani bureaucracy, however, had a different plan!

After facing barriers to setting up a cancer hospital for the poor, he was inspired to take up public duty. He formed the Tehriq-E-Insaaf (Movement of Justice Party) in 1997.

Also, as if that weren't awesome enough, he was recently freakin' incarcerated when Musharraf declared the State of Emergency. He was released, along with 3000 other political prisoners, in November last year.


Sources: BBC, Wikipedia, NYTimes,, CBC, and other various sites and stuff. (By the way, I have a fun game! Go back to my early posts here and trace the devolution of my citations. Bah. I need to stop posting right before bedtime when I've already closed all the tabs and I just plain can't be bothered.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Badass South Africans

What is the Olympics about, really? Is it about all the nations in the world coming together as a peaceful community in the name of healthy competition? Is it about blatant and shameless capitalist consumerism? Is it about running swifter, reaching higher, and being stronger?

If you listen to American coverage of the Games, it is about one thing and one thing only: the amazingly heart-wrenching story of triumph over adversity. And this year the gold medal goes unequivocally to team South Africa.

First we have Oscar Pistorius. He is a world-class runner, having broken a world record in the 400 meters and set many other South African records in other sprinting events. Known as the fastest man on no legs, Pistorius wins able-bodied races despite losing both legs at an early age.

Some have questioned his speed an agility, chalking up his wins to his disability. They contend that his carbon-fiber prostheses give him an unfair advantage. Citing data that suggested his prosthetic legs used less energy than the calves of other runners, the International Association of Athletics Federation ruled in January that he would be ineligible for the Olympics. But in May, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prevent Pistorius from qualifying for the able-bodied Olympics.

He has not done so yet-- he has until June 30. I think he can. He's the Blade Runner, after all.

As if that weren't enough for the amazingly awesome South African team, swimmer Natalie du Toit has qualified for both the Olympics and the Paralympics-- the first athlete ever to compete in both events. (Pistorius may be the second, if he qualifies for the Olympics.) She is also missing a leg, but does not use a prosthesis for swimming-- making her less controversial than her fellow countryman. But honestly? No less awesome.

Diving off the starting block. Awesomely.

Man, South Africa, you are so cool right now. You have the most badass athletes of all the athletes so far. Good job.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My first born? Totally named Aoyun.

I can't allow the day to pass without mention of an AMAZING BBC article my friend sent me: Chinese Babies named 'Olympic Games'

To be fair, in Chinese the name is actually "Aoyun," which is not a terrible name, all things told. Also, China has a much stronger tradition of naming tykes after attributes or other random but powerful nouns than the US does. (Insert standard Hollywood-baby names-those folks are CRAZY joke here.)

And really, of all the things to be named in the world, Olympic Games is not the worst. It's a name with a longstanding tradition, closely tied both to the modern and ancient world. It denotes tenacity, fortitude, speed, grace, courage, and dignity (except, of course, where mascots are concerned). It's a name a small Chinese baby could be proud of.

An ADORABLE small Chinese baby! Just look at him!

Daaaaaaw. For you, little one, I Heart China too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Best Runway In Town

Olympic fashion is everywhere these days, from the front page of the New York Times website-- Seeking Marathon Edge, Can Rice Lead to Gold? (actual first line of article: "Olympic marathon runners are no less obsessed about shoes than the gal pals in 'Sex and the City.'")-- to debates over swim wear (Japan Lifts Swimsuit Ban, BBC News).

But let us leave those discussions to what we call "serious blogs and news sources." No, I know what all of you are here for.


We begin with a trip down memory lane, to some of the fashions of the past...

Oh Aristidis Konstantinidis, will your mustache ever not be sexy?
He won the first cycling thingy, guys. Show some respect.

The archery lasses didn't get all the long skirt love. Just take a gander at these tennis outfits, circa 1896! Yeesh.

Moving forward, let us consider, for a moment, the Opening Ceremonies. You know, where everyone comes into the stadium, led by a placard-bearer, and all dressed in identical outfits? It's a pretty awesome bonding moment for everyone. But wait a minute, what happens if the designer happens to put everyone in doofy hats?

This. This is what happens.

But this year, surely they've learned their lesson. I mean, that previous photo was from 1992. Fashions have changed since then, right?

"Change" is one word for it...
This is Canada's official 2008 gear. I would not lie about something like this.

This, though. This is fuckin' badass.
Canadian designer, you weren't entirely on crack

Well, let us now consider Italy. Italy is considered to be the birthplace of high fashion. The shows in Milan and Rome truly set the stage for world trends in fashion. Surely their Opening Ceremonies would be in the best of taste and refinement. Right? RIGHT?

Um. Do you see the bitty skiers?

Really, Italy? You're going with the flaming robots?
...Okay. Whatever.

You know what? I could take you through every single fashion faux pas the Olympics has ever caused or been witness to (FIGURE SKATING!! FIGURE SKATING!!), but instead I will just move on to the image that has stuck with me since I was a wee lass of seven. Seriously. Barcelona 1992, may your snow globes never be forgotten.

And now? As we look to Beijing 2008?

Yeah. At least it's not a snow globe.

Monday, June 9, 2008

It's Beginning

Can you feel it? It's in the air, it's on the TV, it's in the Parade weekly insert in the paper. Olympics buzz has officially begun.*

All that talk about the torch run and the pollution, nah, that was just build up. We're getting ready for the main event, now. Things are starting to seep into the popular culture-- there are TV commercials, there are endorsements, and before you know it, it will be time to light up that big torch again. We have fewer than 60 days until the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics-- your visa cards are getting spruced up, the athlete coverage is beginning, and we're dusting off our copies of John William's seminal Call of the Champions. You know the one.

*As declared by me. Duh.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Look Back: London '08!

Where were you in 1908? The Olympics were in London!

Queen Elizabeth II hosted a reception at Windsor Castle today to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the IV Olympiad. Of course, it's only roughly the 100th anniversary, as the games were held between April and October, 1908. (They were serious about endurance back in those days.)

We here at Mount Olympics are going to celebrate the only way we know how: showing silly photos and telling entertaining stories. Happy 100 years, 1908 Olympics!

First, we must look at why the games were held in London in the first place. It was the first time in the history of the Olympic Games that two cities, Rome and London were vying to host Unfortunately for Rome, Italy decided that 1908 was a fairly good year to explode.

Vesuvius BLOWS UP!

The Italian government decided that it should probably allocate its funds to, you know, rebuilding Naples rather than hosting an Olympic Games. So London it was!

London! Totally manly! Indubitably!

From the beginning, the Games were controversial. But it wasn't genocide/severe human rights violations/Communism/terrorism controversy. No, this was the adorable type of controversy. It mainly involved flags. According to a list from Wikipedia, the controversies included:
  • The Finnish team was expected to march under the Russian flag rather than the proud Finnish one. Many on the Finnish team chose to march in the Opening Ceremonies without a flag at all.
  • The Swedish team decided not to march in the Opening Ceremonies at all after the Swedish flag was not displayed above the stadium.
  • The US flag was also snubbed from the display above the stadium (that must have been some kind of an awesome display for people to get so worked up about it!) In retaliation, the American flag bearer refused to dip the flag to the royal box. And the proud tradition of not dipping the American flag to nobody was begun. (At least they didn't sing Toby Keith songs, that's all I'm saying.)

Enough controversy! Let's get on with the silly pictures!

Remember how Tug of War was totally a sport?

In 1908, the Gold Medal was awarded to a British team from the City of London Police Club. A small part of me can't help but think of the Ankh Morpork City Watch.

Let's hear it for the British Lady Archers!

It doesn't matter that they were the only female archery team in the games! They totally rocked.

The winners' certificate.

The games were again held in London in 1948 and will be held there in 2012. Luckily enough, they've unveiled their logo, so we can see how far we've come.

Good lord, it burns.

Sources:,, Wikipedia, NYTimes

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The New York Times steals all my good ideas

No really.

Somewhere in New York, someone is getting paid cashy money to do what I do for you here every day (or really about once a week, when I feel like it) for FREE. The New York Times unveiled their very own blog about the Olympics earlier this month. It updates daily and everything!

What is their blog called? Rings. This one? Five Rings. I have FIVE of them, people. I am clearly better qualified. Also, I came first. So there. Suck it, New York Times.

Also, they're doing that whole "Clever Comment: Relevant Subtitle" thing! That was my thing, New York Times. Mine.

Let's compare, just really quickly.

Five Rings, April 11: An Adventure in Symbology, Part 1: THE FLAME
Rings, May 28, 2008: The Starting Line: Smog, Golf, Stadiums, and Banned Swimmers

Mine uses all caps. Clearly it is MORE IMPORTANT.

I HAVE MORE RANTING. But, if you'll excuse me, I'm going off to read about smog and some banned swimmers.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I Heart Quatchi

I am so excited for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Not because I might actually be able to go to the Games. Not because the skeleton is perhaps the craziest sport ever invented by deranged minds.

It's because of Quatchi.

Meet Quatchi, the Sasquatch from Quebec.

Remember that epic mascot blog I did a while back? (Of course you do, it's really the only reason to visit this nook of the internet.*) I left out my favorite mascots of all time, the Vancouver 2010 team!

They just didn't fit in with the other crazies. After all, they haven't exactly had their time in the sun yet. And with good reason! The spend most of their time hiding! Or so one would suspect, seeing as they are completely ridiculous cryptozoological creatures. One is an orca-bear monstrosity.

Here, just... watch the video. It explains absolutely nothing, but it does it far better than I could.

But the Quebecois Sasquatch who has a passion for photography and hockey is perhaps the greatest thing to ever happen to the Olympics, ever.

World? This totally makes up for Izzy. Just when I thought nothing ever could.

*Hell yes I'm revolutionizing the online lexicon. None too shabby for this here cranny of the webbernaut, eh?**
**Oh my God, Quatchi, I've gone native. Pretty soon Mount Olympics will be bilingual and the dollar will be replaced by the Loonie! Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Have you seen how strong the Loonie is these days? Currently worth one US dollar and one US penny and rising.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

An Adventure in Symbology, Part 2: THE RINGS

The Olympic Rings: just the sight of those five wants to make you start humming that triumphant John Williams trumpet solo, doesn't it? But the real story behind the symbol is full of intrigue and falsehoods, everything from the false involvement of Swiss psychiatrists to faked ancient symbolism. Just smell that Adventure History starting to cook!

Let's explore, shall we?

The five-ringed symbol we all know and love was initially brought before the world Congress of 1914 (back when they could take anything called "the world Congress" seriously) to "represent the five parts of the world which now are won over to Olympism and willing to accept healthy competition." (That's the problem with those damn penguins-- they play too damn dirty.)

The six colors are meant to represent the flags of the world, with at least one color appearing on every flag in the world. Not all at the same time, clearly. Otherwise we would have many more amazing technicolor flags. We can't all be as cool as Ethiopia.

Initially, the colors were assigned to very specific flags. The blue was for Sweden, the blue and white was for Greece, blue, white, and red were for the English, American, German, Belgian, Italian, and Hungarian flags. The yellow and red were for the Spanish flag (with the Brazilian and Australian innovations, whatever the hell that means). Also Japan and China. As Coubertin himself wrote, "Voilá vraiment un embléme international!" (The exclamation point is mine.)

I just want you all to know that I just translated that from French. I don't speak French. I sacrifice so much for you people. FYI.

The countries that Coubertin listed are significant for what they omitted. South Africa, for instance, was not mentioned, although South African athletes had competed at every Olympic games since 1896. (Upcoming blog post alert: Imperialism and the Olympics, YAY.)

Wikipedia infers that the original interlocked ring design originally came from Carl Jung (yes, that Carl Jung) because somebody doesn't know how to read academic texts. Jung's involvement is, in fact, a lie. The good doctor merely enjoyed the nature of interlocking rings in general, not necessarily the Olympic symbol in particular. This is actually what the official Olympic pamphlet says:
Circles, after all, connote wholeness (as we are told by the psychologist Karl Jung), the interlocking of them, continuity.
Oh, Wikipedia, when will you tell me true facts? I was all excited, too, because that Carl Jung reference was really cool. Damn my academic training and my propensity to look at primary sources!

Anyway, back to the rings.

For the great big 1936 torch relay (we discussed this in Part 1, if you recall), the Germans decided to go all out, visiting all kinds of historic Greek sites. With a flair for drama and ancient symbolism, the organizers carved the five rings into an ancient pillar at Delphi (as in "the Oracles at").

Nazis are vandalizing ancient treasures?!
Where is Indiana Jones when you need him?

In the 1950s, two historians visited Delphi, found the stone, and thought they had unearthed a crucial link from the past. In their history of the ancient Olympic games, they mistakenly reported that they had found an authentic relic. Whoops!

This reference was then spread by people too lazy to figure out (as Paul Harvey would say) the Rest of the Story. But now you know.

Ultimately, the appeal of the Olympic rings lies not in their ancient history, nor their more recent slightly imperialist history, nor their tenuous ties to significant Swiss psychiatrists. The five rings represent an image that is indelibly burned into the brains of billions across the globe: the symbol itself constitutes some common knowledge that the whole world shares.

Plus, it's just so easy to riff off the image, be it for the purpose of parody, protest, or ceremony.


Image sources: Wikipedia,,,,

References: "This Great Symbol: Tricks of History" by Robert Knight Barney, Wikipedia (though it gave me lies),

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Torch is on Top of the World

As of today, the torch-wielding Chinese climbing team made it to the very tippy top of the world. Even though there is very little oxygen that high in the atmosphere, the torch blazed true.

This torch is different than the one that traveled around the world-- it was specially designed to blaze on Mount Everest. It was unsullied by controversy, by protests, and by that awkward incident where it actually got extinguished in Paris. Its only job is to burn freely, as high as we can go.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mount Everest: Closed

I really need to go to bed, but before I do, here's this little tidbit.

China has closed Mount Everest.


Mount Everest is situated in the Himalayas on the border between Tibet (to the north) and Nepal (to the south). The Tibetan side of the mountain has been closed for some time to Westerners, nobody can get in or out of the area, let alone up the mountain. But as the torch climbs up and down the tallest peak on earth, there will be nobody to impede it or plant any Free Tibet flags at the summit. An American climber found with a Free Tibet flag at base camp got deported last week. They're not screwing around.

Chinese officials expect to reopen the mountain on May 10th at the latest... unless, you know, the torch gets delayed or something. All they're saying is that the torch will go up on a day in May when conditions are favorable. In the meantime, everyone else gets to play the waiting game.

They haven't begun quite yet-- the team is hanging out at base camp, waiting for storms to abate.

See that tiny little flame up near the tippy-top? No?
Well, you will on a day in May when the weather is favorable.

Also, man, if there's ever a sherpa hall of fame, I'm willing to bet the sherpa torch bearer guys are going to be in it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tug-of-War was once an Olympic sport!

And the world was a much better place for it.

About two weeks ago I got really excited about starting a blog about the Olympics and politics and weird sports. I went to the library and checked out a ton of books-- all of which would be due two weeks later. In an effort to not hold the entire Olympics collection hostage, I've been trying to figure out which books to send back. Some of them have stuff that is just too good to lose without mention.

So here we go-- random trip through random factoids from random library books. Awesome!

Sports that weren't:
The pankerton was basically a super intense game of uncle-- no rounds, no time limits, and few rules. Competitors were only restricted from gouging eyes and biting, but apparently "pankratiasts often got away with both."
Pigeon shooting was an official sport in Paris in 1900. Now they use clay pigeons, the spoilsports.

Speaking of spoilsports, my Eyewitness Olympics book (you know the brand-- lots of pretty pictures and lengthy informative captions) has an entire two pages devoted to spoilsports. Here is the list of spoilsports, as far as I can tell:

Palestinian terrorists in 1972
Idi Amin
World Wars. Just, you know, in general.

Hitler was the spoilsport, not Jesse Owens.

Eyewitness Books, Olympics, published 1999.
Image comes from and is the cover of a VHS tape, I think.

Edit: For a more detailed discussion of just how Hitler was a spoilsport and a more thorough discussion of the Jesse Owens story, see my new blog post: Jesse Owens and Hitler.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I've got Mascot Fever!

Meet the Fuwa, or for us Western folk the Friendlies. They are China's Olympic mascots-- Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini. But don't just take my word for it, watch this AMAZING cartoon depicting their origins!

Okay, so there's a fish, a flame, a panda, a swallow, and an antelope. But where do mascots really come from?

Let's take a look at Olympic mascot history, in all its glory. Let's start, as Julie Andrews would say, at the very beginning. It is a very good place to start.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Schuss.

Schuss is kind of freaky looking, and nobody knows what exactly it is. But, as the predecessor of all Olympic mascots to come, the freakishness is completely appropriate.

The word schuss means a fast downhill ski run. The character Schuss is apparently... doing that? I think?

Schuss was the unofficial mascot to the 1968 Winter Games at Grenoble. He is unofficial, as far as I can tell, because there was never any plush made of him, which is apparently the criterion to be an official Olympic mascot. Plush.

Anyway, some of the souvenirs from the Grenoble games featured his likeness, and when they sold well, some marketing genius got ahold of the idea and... voila! A new Olympic tradition was born!


Everyone, meet Waldi. Waldi, meet everyone. Waldi is the first official Olympic mascot (please note the plushiness). He was introduced to the world at the 1972 Munich games, and was totally not a part of all the suckiness that went down there. See, Waldi is more like the redemption of those damn games-- a message that yes, maybe the Olympics doesn't exactly solve everything, but at least we can give the world a little bit more adorable.

Waldi was modeled after a Cherie von Birkenhof, which is apparently a long haired breed of Dachshund. Because we all know Dachshunds are sherbet-colored.

Canada gives us our first round of Indigenously inspired mascots!

"Amik in Indian language means beaver," the International Olympic Committee's official website proclaims. Sometimes the IOC's politically correct message of international equality falls a little flat, but maybe they were just trying to reflect the general sentiment of the times, which was one of ham-fisted attempts at inclusion of other cultures.

Amik actually derives from the Anishinaabe language (which technically, yes, is an Indian language). The beaver was chosen as a mascot because it represents hard work and dedication and is also native to Eastern Canada. The image itself was only chosen, I imagine, because it was the 70s and crack was just what we did then, man.


1976 also saw the dawn of the Schneemann, which means snowman in what I'm sure the IOC would describe as Lederhosen language (it's actually German, as the games were held in Innsbruck, Austria). Save the most awesome name for the creepiest looking mascot, that's what I always say.

Schneemann holds the upcoming lead in Mascots: The Olympic Horror Massacre Bloodbath and is also grandpappy to Neve and Gliz of Turin '06. But wait up, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

1980: Misha the Bear

Misha was described as "the embodiment of kindness and strength, hospitality and sportmanship, nerve and calm."

Oh yeah. I can see how nervous and yet calm he is. Can't you?

The bear has "an independent character and confidence in its strength-- qualities essential for each competitor." Misha's full name is Mikhail Potapych Toptygin. This revelation, granted by the BBC, only leads me to ask more questions. Why does he have a middle name? Why is he so cute?

Cosmonaut Vladimir Kovalyonok even took Misha into space to the Salyut 6 Laboratory. Apparently, he's still there, hanging out in space.

The Moscow games also had a much less popular mascot named Vigri, the baby seal. He apparently was the mascot only for the yachting events.

Awwww, but look at how adorable he is! It's okay, Vigri, I'll always think you're the most adorable mascot of the 1980 Moscow Games, even if that bastard bear Misha gets all the credit. Oh hey, Vigri, you'll enjoy this-- we named our dog Misha.

Oh, he's even wearing an adorable little cap! I just want to hug that precious little Soviet propaganda tool.

Point of Inquiry? Not that I'm complaining, because this seal is seriously cute, but why did the yachting event get its own mascot?

Raccoon Tragedy Strikes
Meet Roni the raccoon, a last minute replacement mascot.

Roni's back story is actually the saddest of the bunch. The 1980 Lake Placid games was going to present Rocky the Raccoon, the first living mascot in the history of the Olympic games. Unfortunately, Rocky exhibited one of the disadvantages of living creatures-- he died. Right before the games.

And in the mad dash to create a new marketable mascot, corners got cut. At least, that's the only explanation that makes sense to me. 'Cause damn, that's one hideous raccoon.

Uncle Sam Meets Disney Meets the IOC
and they all have a party.

Sam the Eagle helped out when Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Summer Olympics. Designed by a team of Disney artists, Sam the Eagle does not quite exhibit the hideous conglomeration of cute and horrifying of, say, Schneeman. Sam the Eagle seems to be a little bit before his time in terms of marketability, simplicity, and overall aesthetics. But never fear, the hideous will return soon, in the form of...

Vucko! The horrifying Serbian wolf!

Cower and tremble before Vucko, the scariest mascot to date (including Schneeman, and I didn't think that was possible). He headlined at the Sarajevo Olympics of 1984.

Seriously, I think he wants to eat my brain. Or at least the hairs of my chinny chin chin.

Vucko was elected mascot by popular vote among the Yugoslav newsreading public. Which leads me to believe that the Yugoslav newsreading public were deranged.

The plush is not much better at all. Vucko wears a ribbon as a scarf and smiles his creepy-ass smile. Do you know what? He probably ate the Lillehammer mascots of '94 when they showed up wherever the retired mascots go.

The Seoul Olympics are GRRRRREAT!

The cute returns with Hodori, the mascot of the Seoul 1988 Olympics. As any great mascot should, Hodori demonstrates his favorite Olympic sport, which is apparently Rhythmic Gymnastics. You twirl that ribbon, Hodori, twirl it like there's no tomorrow.

In a nod to political correctness, Hodori was the first mascot to have a female companion. In a nod to political incorrectness, Hosuni never appears anywhere without Hodori, and appears to be nothing more than a slightly smaller version of the exact same image. Oh well, at least they were trying.

Canada Again Brings the Kitsch

Calgary's 1988 Olympics brought two more members to the mascot family. Hidy and Howdy, billed as inseparable polar bear siblings, they bring to the table much of what Canada is famous for: hospitality, oversized plushy costumes, hokey western wear, and incredible, blinding paleness.

These two were conceived by the International Mascot Corporation. I think, after you see the other Olympic mascot IMC is responsible for, you will join me in my international movement to condemn the corporation and all the plushiness it stands for.

Cobi the Cubist Catalan Sheepdog

Cobi is apparently based on Picasso's interpretation of Las Meninas. Really, I'm not seeing it. But Cobi did bring a certain simplistic adorability to the 1992 Barcelona games.

Although his appearance is unique and creative, his name is not. Cobi is derived from the acronym for the Barcelona Olympic Organizing Committee (COOB in Spanish). Come on folks! Naming the mascot after your own bureaucratic committee? LAME.

As far as I can tell, Cobi is the first participant in another fine Olympic mascot tradition: starring one's own nationally broadcast television cartoon, only he didn't make it onto TV until after the Olympics were over. So that's 10 points for longevity, but -25 for not doing your job and creating buzz, Cobi. Way to go.

Magique-- It's like Christmas in France

Say hello to Magique, a happy little Snow Imp from That Year When They Just Stopped Trying (also known as Albertville 1992).

Magique is kind of the replacement mascot, however, because the previously announced mascot (Chamois, a happy little mountain goat seen here) was "unceremoniously dropped two years before the games," according to the IOC.

Which is completely ridiculous, if only because everything the IOC does is ceremonious.

There's some speculation on the internet (and, like any good debate on the internet, it's coupled with some fairly pornographic images... I'm just warning you now) that Magique was chosen over Chamois because the theme for that year's ceremonies was Cirque du Soleil and the mountain goat just wasn't fitting in. Honestly, though, I think "fitting in" is the last thing on Magique's mind. He's probably preoccupied with his lack of opposable thumbs and the high fever that's turning him that awful pink color.

Hello Kristen, Hello Unpronounceable

Here are Kristen and Haakon, the first human mascots of the any Olympic games. They come from Lillehammer, Norway, circa 1994. It would normally be sort of creepy to have humanish mascots, but Kristen and Haakon are just so darn cute, I can't say anything else. Instead, I'll let the IOC website speak for me.

"Haakon and Kristin were two children from Norwegian folklore... There were also several pairs of real-life blond, blue eyed Norwegian children who, in keeping with the loveable mascots’ human form, portrayed them in-the-flesh and travelled the world promoting the Games."

Never mind. Still creepy as hell.


It's Izzy, the Whatzit, signifying all that is wrong, horrible, and evil in the world, and, you guessed it, another International Mascot Corporation brainchild.

Instead of poking fun at this atrocity, let me just quote to you Izzy's actual back story thought up by people who actually get paid actual money to do this sort of thing.

"With the first flicker of fire, the renewed Olympic Spirit energized a tiny spark within the flame. As the torch passed on from one Olympiad to the next, the energy became a force so powerful it created a new world, the Torch World, right there in the cauldron. The Whatizits, born of the same force, instinctively knew they were the 'keepers of the flame.' ... Only one, the little blue Whatizit named Izzy, had higher ambitions. He dreamed of leaving Torch World to participate in the Olympic Games on Earth. ... The rights of passage had to be earned by finding the five Olympic rings hidden in the center of Torch World, a rugged and dangerous region where no Whatizit had ever tread. Izzy encountered volcano eruptions, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, swift rapids, big dark caves, fire-breathing dragons, and other dangers, but valiantly emerged from his quest with all five rings."

I believe I'm not alone when I say... WHAAAAATT???? Atlanta '96, baby.

What, you haven't heard of Japanese owls?

While these Owls, named Sukki, Nokki, Lekki, Tsukki, and Bob, (no, wait, sorry, that's five) do appear to have been drawn by the commission's collective three-year-old daughter, everyone can agree that they are much better designed than some of the previous mascots. After all, at least that three-year-old had some color sensibility.

Not All Australian Animals Are Poisonous

The first games of the new millennium were held in Sydney, and Olly the Kookaburra, Syd the Platypus, and Millie the Echidna were there to greet everyone. They were friendly, happy, and a little bit too cartooney for some folks' taste. For example, since when to echidnas have breasts? Everyone knows they have milk patches and no nipples!

No, seriously, I looked it up.

Also, Platypuses have poisonous leg spines. So, you know, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

Salt Lake City: Bears Welcome!

We're bringing back the Native American legends, folks. Just a warning.

Salt Lake City's 2002 Olympics looked to the official Olympic motto ("Citius, Altius, Fortius") for mascot inspiration. Also Native American myths. But of course! From the IOC website:

Snowshoe Hare, "Powder" (Swifter): At one time, the sun was burning up the earth. The hare ran swiftly to the top of the mountain. Shooting her arrow at the sun, she dropped it lower in the sky and cooled the land.

Coyote, "Copper" (Higher): When the world turned dark and frozen, the coyote climbed the highest mountaintop and stole the flame from the fire people. He brought warmth back to the earth.

American Black Bear, "Coal" (Stronger): Long ago brave hunters left their villages to track the mighty bear, but the bear was too strong and outlasted the hunters. Today, sons of the hunters continue the chase [the bear] in the night sky.

Funny, they left out all the parts where Coyote gets horny. I wonder why.

Know Your Roots, Y'all

Athens 2004 knew how to kick it Old School. And by Old School I mean Bronze Age. Athena and Phevos are based off of ancient dolls or religious symbols from back in the back in the day.

Or, to put it another way, I kind of love the official Beijing Olympic website's description of them:

"The lovely mascots, Athena and Phevos, with their whacking feet, longish necks and puny heads, one in deep yellow and the other in deep blue, are based on dolls, thousands of years old, found at archeological sites in Greece."

Neve! Gliz!
Torino '06 saw a new breed of Olympic mascots: overly stylized crystallized water structures. But wait, I feel like I've seen this before, perhaps in 1976...

Neve is a "gentle, kind and elegant snowball," while Gliz is a "lively, playful ice cube."
They apparently reflect the many facets of Turin 2006: passion, enthusiasm, culture, elegance, and love of the environment and of sport.

Of course. I totally get that the snowball is elegant and the ice cube is concerned about environmentalism. Duh.


And now we're back at the present day. What a long, strange journey it has been. Remember, Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini welcome you to Beijing. They had better-- the first syllables of their names, when said together, mean "Beijing welcomes you" in Chinese.

After all, nothing says "Welcome" like a mascot.


UPDATE OMG: There have been other Olympiads since, so let's check over on those!

Vancouver 2010: Quatchi, Sumi, and Miga! A sasquatch, a thunderbird, and an orcabear. BFFs4 LYFE. (I freaking love these mascots. I have no qualms!)

Singapore Youth Olympics 2010: Lyo and Merly. Who doesn't love mythical sea creatures?

London 2012: Another ham-fisted attempt at allowing a marketing firm design your mascot.

Long Izzy quote from, an actual fan site for actual fans of actual Izzy pins. Really.
The photos came from a lot of different sources, including but not limited to the IOC official website, Beijing 2008's official website, the photos from a returned Mormon missionary, and various blogs across the internet. I'm not hotlinking any of them-- all the images have been downloaded and re-uploaded. If somebody needs me to find where I found them, just ask. I probably should have kept better track.
Barukh Hazan, Olympic Sports and Propaganda Games: Moscow 1980, Transaction Publishers.