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The trouble with being an international sports mascot

March 12, 2016

The plushy passed out in a back alley. Drinking to remember or forget?

The local Vancouver media hushes it up but every February–and well into March–the littlest and least promoted of the 2010 Winter Games mascots, Muk Muk the marmot, goes on an extended alcohol-fueled bender, which he calls “running amukmuk”.

It’s hard enough for an international sporting event mascot to handle being catapulted overnight to world fame–its name suddenly on everyone’s lips and its face and likeness reproduced on T-shirts and as plush toys–only to become a nobody again inside of three weeks.

From hero to zero in 16 days

The 2010 mascots people remember: Quatchi, Miga and Sumi.

The 2010 mascots people remember: Quatchi, Miga and Sumi.—Damian D.

Worse for Muk Muk, he wasn’t even a fully-fledged 2010 Winter Games mascot. He was the mascot equivalent of a fourth line player–a so-called “cyber-mascot”, or “sidekick”. He was largely relegated to the video sidelines while his three first line peers, Miga, Quatchi and Sumi soaked up all the public adulation. Ouch!

No doubt, being the “fifth Beatle” of Winter Games mascots probably wasn’t a good career choice for this runt of a Vancouver Island marmot. Likely the experience simply exacerbated existing traumatic stress and abandonment issues accumulated from his life as the member of a notoriously endangered species in British Columbia.

All-in-all it should come as no surprise if Muk Muk drinks a bit. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last international sporting event mascot to have difficulty dealing with the inevitable letdown after the closing ceremonies.

The Ruskie care bear that the West didn’t care for

Misha, the mascot of the 1980 Summer Games, sheds a tear.

Misha, the mascot of the 1980 Summer Games, sheds a tear.

Reportedly, Misha, the unbearably cute mascot of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, was an inconsolable wreck after the United States and 65 other countries boycotted the event to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He was famously seen crying at the closing ceremonies and afterwards was said to have “hit the vodka pretty hard”.

But unlike Vancouver’s miserable marmot, Moscow’s blubbering bear was able to bounce back. Rumour had it that on the strength of contacts made during his 1978 promotional trip to the Salyut 6 space station, Misha was able to swing a cushy summer job  at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, under his real name of Mikhail Potapych Toptygin.

In case you’re curious, he only worked in the summer because he hibernated all winter.

Mascots feel each others’ pain by the way. Contrary to Western assumptions, the Polar Bear mascot of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, nicknamed “Nightmare Bear” by social media, wasn’t mourning the end of the games when it shed a single tear during the closing ceremonies–it was a mute tribute to Misha.

Because they so quickly return to total obscurity, the struggle that mascots of international sporting events face—just to make ends meet, after their particular games are over is a largely untold story.

Amik's likeness on a sign for the Montréal Summer games in 1976.

Amik’s likeness on a sign for the Montréal Summer games in 1976.

Consider the case of Amik, arguably Canada’s most famous international sporting event icon. The black beaver mascot of the 1976 Montréal Summer Games went on to briefly help promote the release of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer in 1982. However, her hopes of perhaps becoming the official mascot of the popular Apple II computer were dashed by the release of the black and white Apple Macintosh in 1984.

Fortunately, Amik was able to support herself and fund several anti-fur campaigns on the strength of generous city waste collection contracts that she had been awarded as part of her original mascot deal with the Montréal Mayor’s office. Click the images to enlarge them.

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