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Olympic fun and games with pins and mascots

November 28, 2007
  Most people see the Olympics as a time for competition and sport amongst athletes, but there is another sport that goes along with the Olympics where your country does not receive medals, the participants don’t march into the stadium but it is just as serious as the others, I am referring to pin collecting.  (And you thought I was going to talk about marketing and sales or protests and government overspending).
  Pin collecting and trading is huge at the Olympics.  People come from all over the world to participate and go to great lengths and expense to participate.  The really neat thing about pins is that you can spend a lot of money or just a very little and still participate with people from all over the world.  Most people find a niche and work from there.  I like the mascots, but other people are interested in sponsors, bid pins, logos, corporate or government pins, broadcasters….and the list goes on.   Background of pin trading
Here is a bit of history on the mascots.
  I got interested with collecting Olympic pins when I was given a Misha pin from the Moscow Olympics by a teacher.  It was the mascot from the 1980 summer games.  Since 1968 in Grenoble, with the first olympic mascot, Schuss, organizing committees have been increasing their marketing potential with the little characters.  Some have been more successful then others, and in my opinion, some have gone a bit over the top with the number of characters, but it is all in fun. 
 You can see all the mascots at the official Olympic website here:  Olympic website on mascots
  It was at the Calgary winter Olympics in 1988 that for the first time two characters were chosen, a girl and a boy bear named Hidy and Howdy.  They were a huge hit with children at the games.  Leave it to the collectors and traders to come up with another character, Rowdy, the unofficial love child of the two bears.  I have only heard about that one, I wish I could have seen it.  On a side track, you never know what the populace will go for in pin collecting, at the Salt Lake city Olympics the most popular pin was a pin with green Jello.
     Sometimes the mascots don’t turn out as well as the organizing committee hoped.   At one time they used to reveal the mascot at the closing ceremony from the previous Olympics.  During the Calgary Olympic closing ceremonies the folks from Albertville presented a sweet little mountain goat, Chamois as their mascot.  Something happened and they decided that the goat was not suitable.  The mascot was changed to Magique, now called a "snow imp" roughly the shape of a star.  It was not well thought out and when made into a mascot costume the person inside had difficulty walking around and wasn’t all that appealing to children ( more like scary).  Imagine a huge blue star waddling with arms and legs spread eagled towards a timid three or four year old.  Older children would push the character down from behind.
   At the time of the Atlanta Olympics, computer  graphics and animation was becoming popular.  The character that was presented at the closing ceremony was intended to be a television star that would be able to morph and change, which while visually appealing on the surface, was not very workable as merchandise.  It was something like having a pet fish, not very lovable or cuddly.  So the character changed in appearance, and in his name as well.  At first he didn’t have a name, just a question mark.  It didn’t go well and after much angst he was termed Whatizit, then changed to Izzy.  I think they just threw up their hands and had a committee try to fix it. 
     Although he was the first mascot with a website, ACOG excluded him from the Olympic opening ceremonies because he was too controversial.  Izzy fans give a history
  It seems that other committees learned from the experience of Atlanta and Albertville, but that doesn’t mean anything is totally smooth sailing for the mascots.  Lillehammer corrected the image problem by having two real life children symbolize their mascots when promoting the games, for the merchandise they came up with two children doll characters.  Who could criticize kids without looking bad? 
   For Nagano and Barcelona it took a while for the public to warm up to the mascots and then they became quite popular.   Nagano had four mascots, one for each year between the games and the first part of each of their names makes up their group name the Snowlets.  I guess they thought if one sells then four would sell four times as much!
  Sydney and Salt Lake each had three mascots.  The Australians seemed to really like their mascots and even on the other side of the planet I knew that they really put a lot into the turn of the millennium mascots.  One thing I recently learned is that they too had an unofficial mascot.  According to wiki there was more popularity with Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat.  He was a protest against the commercialization of the mascots and only two stuffed Fatsos were produced, although there is now a statue of him as well. Wiki entry on Fatso
 The Salt Lake Olympics had three mascots to reflect the Olympic motto of Citius-Altius-Fortius (faster higher stronger).  Probably the first ones that thought of the games themselves as a inspiration for the mascot.
  Then for a time the designs didn’t seem to go as well.  Athens had a pair of dolls that although were based in the history of the games themselves and inspired by ancient toys were quite uncomely looking.  Turin also had a set of mascots, this time they were a snowball and an icecube with legs and arms, not really well understood I guess if you are not Italian.
  Then there are the games to come including Beijing, Vancouver and London.  Beijing has five official mascots called Fuwa that each stand for one ring in the Olympic logo.  If you visit the Beijing Olympic website they will even teach you phrases in foreign languages. Fuwa  When you put their names together they spell out "Welcome to Beijing." 
 But we won’t forget to click on The franchisees for splendid Olympics merchandise.
  You can already find the wonderful merchandise for the newest mascots for sale at the Bay, HBC mascot merchandise.
  Okay, so that’s what it boils down to, you buy the pins you collect the pins and then you trade the pins, and to tell you the truth, I am looking forward to my first participation in the frenzy of pin trading at the Olympic level when they come to Vancouver.  Here is a few places where you can get started if you are interested.
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