Plush mascots help teach Olympic lesson

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Did you know?

• Mandeville is the mascot of the 2012 Paralympics in London; the name comes from Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which treated British servicemen in World War II. The hospital held a wheelchair archery competition on the day the 1948 Olympics opened in London. Competitors from the Netherlands took part in 1952, turning it into an international event and forerunner of the Paralympics.

photoSam the Eagle of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

(/The Columbian)

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Heading into the 1984 Summer Olympics, Rosalee Johnson said she realized that Sam the Eagle could help the kids in her day care center learn a little more about the world.

Since then, Johnson's Olympic team has included Waldi the Dachshund, Hodori the Tiger, Cobi the Sheepdog and Misha the Bear (plus his alter ego, I'm Just a Bear) as well as Izzy the … well, what exactly Izzy, anyway?

Johnson has updated the group with Wenlock and Mandeville, mascots of the 2012 London Games, which heads into the Paralympics competition today.

Johnson's collection of Olympics plush toys will be on display at the Three Creeks Community Library, 800-C N.E. Tenney Road, through Friday.

"I did it in order to get kids interested in the Olympics," Johnson said. "It's something they can play with, and stuffed animals get them interested."

It's a chance to talk about how the five Olympic rings represent the continents and how the five Olympic colors represent national flags. During the London Games, the kids colored Olympic logos and had an activity day that included their version of the torch relay.

Olympic host organizations started marketing plush mascots in 1972, Johnson said. After acquiring Sam the Eagle during the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, "I went backwards" to obtain the others. In those days before online shopping, she had to do some searching to fill in the blanks for both the summer and winter games held in 1972, 1976 and 1980.

"I'm only missing Amik the Beaver," symbol of the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, she said.

Izzy, the abstract mascot of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, "caused quite a stir," Johnson said.

Izzy izn't the only mascot that left people scratching their heads. Wenlock and Mandeville, the one-eyed blobs that symbolize this year's Summer Games, "were created from the last drops of steel left over from the construction of the final support beam for the Olympic Stadium," explained the creation tale online.

"My very favorite is Misha the Bear, from the Russian games we boycotted," Johnson said.

Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States and many of its allies pulled their teams from the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. The boycott extended to Misha the mascot.

In the U.S., "they pulled them all off the shelves and took off the five gold Olympic rings," Johnson said.

She was able to get both plushies: the Moscow version, as well as the re-clothed bear that was approved for American consumers.

"When I got my reissued one, it had a T-shirt that said 'I'm Just a Bear,'" Johnson said. "But the impressions of the five Olympic rings were still in the fur."

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.