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This article was published 27/7/2017 (1218 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As far as Manitobans go, he’s hotter than most.
That’s because he’s a magical creature created by the summer heat, who lives in Manitoba’s Spirit Sands and draws his strength from the scorching summer sun.
Confused? We’re talking about Niibin, the bright orange and yellow mascot of the 2017 Canada Summer Games, which kicked off in Winnipeg on Friday and run until Aug. 13.
Along with the estimated 4,000 athletes and coaches and more than 20,000 visitors, the flame-inspired mascot will be front and centre in the city as the Games’ official, but fictional, ambassador.
His name (pronounced NEE-BIN) was submitted by Grade 3 student Taylor Schepp from St. Emile Catholic School in Winnipeg. "Niibin is the Anishinaabe word for ‘it is summer.’ I like the name Niibin because it sounds cool, and because it is the Canada Summer Games," Taylor gushed in a news release announcing the winner of the naming contest.
One cranky media critic has likened Niibin to a "flaming squirrel," but the flames on the character’s body are meant to represent the Games cauldron and show unity in sport.
"Summer is Niibin’s favourite season," explains the Games website. "He finds fun in the simplest activities, like playing hide-and-seek with lizards, peek-a-boo with prairie dogs, and sneaking up on white-tailed deer. He loves to dance, play sports and head off on adventures."
So he’s a lot like the rest of us fun-loving Manitobans, unlike the creepy creatures populating today’s unsettling list of the Five Worst Mascots in Olympic History:
5) The Games: The 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal
The mascot: Amik
The Mayhem: Call us un-Canadian if you must, but out of a sense of journalistic fairness we’re starting today’s unflattering list right here at home. The mascot for the Montreal Games was Amik, a black beaver with a red stripe, into which the Olympic rings were inset. For the record, the word "amik" means "beaver" in the Algonquin language. The beaver’s red sash represented the ribbons to which the Olympic medals were attached. "Several reasons justified the choice of the beaver as mascot of the 1976 Olympic Games," explains the website of the Olympic Museum.
"Recognized for its patience and hard work, this animal has occupied an important place in the economic development of Canada from the time when the fur trade was the major activity in North America. It has been honoured as the national symbol of Canadians and appears on coins and stamps." As far as we can tell, Amik was used for posters and stuffed toys, but wasn’t transformed into a human-sized ambassador. There’s nothing more Canadian than a beaver, right?
In reality, Amik was just a bit too boring, little more than a beaver silhouette with a red stripe. Snorted Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports: "Devoid of any facial features or discernible characteristics, Amik looks like something your eight-year-old produced in a state of panic 10 minutes before his art project was due. It was early on in the Olympic mascot game, but you could have done better, Montreal." The Huffington Post was a bit more polite, sniffing:
"As far as Olympic-tier mess-ups go, Amik’s easily interpretable design was a safe bet. Amik is tireless and mild-mannered, which is as Canadian as it gets." Or as SBNation’s Bill Hanstock pointed out: "I guess they’re lucky they didn’t wind up just going with their first idea, ‘Syrupy, the Maple Syrup Bottle.’"
4) The Games: The 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France
The Mascot: Magique the mountain imp
The Mayhem: If the beaver is distinctly Canadian, what creature symbolizes France? Well, how about a mountain imp in the shape of both a star and a cube, dressed in the colours of the French flag? For reasons that are not entirely clear, Magique the star-shaped imp became the symbol of the Albertville Games. It seems initially they were going to go with a mountain goat as their mascot, but nobody liked it, so two years before the Games they opted for (why not?) the imp.
The organizing committee financed several studies to come up with a name, but that search proved fruitless. In the end, the imp’s creator, Philippe Mairesse, realized the word "magique" appeared several times in his notes, so everyone agreed to go with that. "His star shape symbolized dreams and imagination," notes Olympic.org.
Twenty five years later, Magique has lots of fans. Just kidding. Here’s how Peter Hartlaud of NBC News describes him: "Looking a bit like Maggie Simpson when she’s bundled up for cold weather, the Magique appeared to be human, but had no nose, ears, hands or feet. The conehead didn’t help this snow imp look any more intelligent, and the figure’s obesity didn’t make him much of a symbol for athletic competition. If you were lucky enough to get a plastic one, it made a nice throwing star.
Otherwise, the Magique was pretty much useless." Sniffed Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports: "Magique is what happens when you can’t say no to people during the creative process. ‘He should be a star.’ Sure. ‘He should be a cube.’ Yep. ‘He should have a wizard hat and rosy cheeks.’ You got it. Too many cooks, Albertville." Still, he wouldn’t look out of place on top of a Christmas tree.
3) The Games: The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens
The Mascot(s): Athena and Phevos
The Mayhem: Mascots are typically geared towards kids, which makes Athena and Phevos just a little bit creepier than normal. The pair resembled... um... well, here’s what Bill Hanstock of SBNation.com had to say: "This looks like one of those weird ‘adult comic strips’ that you might nervously leaf through in the ‘sex’ section of a library or bookstore when you’re in grade school... Two bizarre, bottom-heavy weirdos with five-inch arms holding hands and stumbling around Athens together. If you saw these things out on the street you’d have to admonish your children not to openly gawk.
Don’t stare, sweetie. They’ve just got their own thing going on." To us, they resembled cone-shaped tents with giant Neanderthal feet on the bottom and weird wiener-shaped heads on top. They were modelled after a bell-shaped terracotta doll and their names are a reference to two gods of Olympus — Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Phevos, a modern pronunciation of Phoebus, which is another name for Apollo. "The two mascots thus symbolize the link between ancient Greece and the Olympic Games of the modern era," chirps Olympic.org.
Back in 2004, a group devoted to preserving ancient culture sued over the mascots, claiming they "savagely insult" classical Greek culture. Media types were equally cruel to the duo, supposedly a brother and sister embodying the unity of men and women. Sniffed Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports: "Major props for throwing it all the way back to the original games with the names, but what happened with the design? You’ve got a Greek god and goddess and you come up with two amorphous blobs who look like Simpsons rejects? Yikes!"
2) The Games: The 2012 Summer Olympics in London
The Mascot(s): Wenlock and Mandeville
The Mayhem: How is anyone supposed to feel warm and fuzzy about a pair of giant blob-shaped creatures that resemble Cyclops in the sense they only have one giant eye in the middle of their foreheads, and supposedly the eyeball is a giant camera, filming everything they see?
According to their fictional storyline, they were formed from the last drops of steel left over from the final support girder of the Olympic Stadium in London. Their heads also feature yellow lights symbolizing London taxis. Wenlock’s name was inspired by an English village whose 1850 games were an inspiration for the modern Olympics, while Mandeville is named after Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which held games seen as a precursor to the Paralympics. Here’s what Bill Hanstock of SBNation.com groused: "Two all-seeing Cyclops with pincers for hands and stern looks on their faces. They have no mouths and one of them is insisting that his entire crotch area be highlighted, as to better draw the eye. They are absolutely two seconds away from unfurling a laser-beam blast from their forehead jewels and laying waste to Olympic Stadium." In a sense of fairness, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, which called the 2010 Vancouver Games the worst ever, had the Vancouver Sun’s Harrison Mooney write a column, wherein he raged:
"It simply isn’t possible to criticize these Olympics without mentioning Wenlock and Mandeville, the offensively terrible, anthropomorphic characters London has named the official mascots of the Games. These phallic bugbears fitted out in foppish puffery are by far the worst mascots of any Olympics, and I say this while trying to suppress my memories of Atlanta’s amorphous blob Whatizit (later renamed Izzy), which ushered in the trend of using no creative effort whatsoever on mascot design."
1) The Games: The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta
The Mascot: Izzy
The Mayhem: When it comes to creepy mascots, Atlanta’s Izzy takes the cake. First introduced at the end of the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games as "Whatizit" (as in "What is it?"), the mascot was greeted with full-on hatred. So he was redesigned for the opening of the 1996 Games. It didn’t help. What they came up with was some kind of random animated creature with the ability to morph into different forms that did not represent anything remotely significant to Atlanta or the United States.
It became famously known among media pundits as "The Sperm in Sneakers." Opined The New York Times: "Indeed, Izzy has nothing whatsoever to do with Atlanta or the South or anyplace else, for that matter. He is a blue slug, or termite, or guppy, or something, with oversized red sneakers, stars for pupils, and lightning bolts for eyebrows. Perhaps the only association with anything Georgian is his Jimmy Carter grin." Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, said Izzy brings to mind "a bad marriage of the Pillsbury doughboy and the ugliest California Raisin." The Washington Times simply dismissed Izzy as "road kill." It is virtually impossible to find any love for Izzy online. Declared Al Donato of HuffingtonPost.ca: "Izzy is the hottest of hot messes. An actual abomination... Izzy emerged out of a tight deadline, money woes, and an artist who was new to Atlanta." SBNation.com described him as "the Microsoft Talking Paper Clip of Olympic mascots." A popular joke at time stated the blue line designating the route for the marathon was, in fact, "Izzy’s ass being dragged out of town."
We’re not sure how Manitobans will react to Niibin, the Summer Games’ mascot, but we expect they’ll be polite. And seeing as how he represents a hot Manitoba summer, the mosquitoes are going to love him.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.