Izzy the Whatizit
Trying to tell the story of Izzy is much like
being a part of the old Abbot and Costello comedy routine, "Who's
on First?" The reaction to our first glimpse of Izzy was
"What is it?" The answer: "Whatizit." With
the question being a question, and the answer looking like a
question, and the strange Whatizit in question, everybody had
questions. Izzy was Izzy and Whatizits were fantasy creatures
from the Torch World, a land of make believe within the Olympic
Torch. It just took us earthlings a while to get things right.
The story of the Torch World begins with the
first modern Olympiad in 1896. The Games took place at the site
where the ancient Olympiads had been held, on the plains of
Olympia, near Athens, Greece. It had been over 1500 years since
those ancient Games, and now the Olympic Flame burned once more.
High above the new marble stadium, the torch was reignited in
the sacred tradition, lit with rays from the sun. 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."
Soon the population of the Torch World increased.
Green, pink, purple, blue and yellow Whatizits of all shapes
and sizes were everywhere. Neighborhoods developed along the
of the torch. Fabulous stadiums and training facilities soon
followed. The Elders, guardians of Torch World, dutifully scheduled
and judged a constant procession of Torch World Olympic Games.
The energy of the Olympic Spirit from these games helped fuel
the flame above them and kept it burning brightly.
The Torch World was a great place to live. The athletes,
spectators, and the Elders were happy and content with their
own Games. 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. Izzy was not among the best athletes, so the
other Whatizits did not think much of his goal. His own mother
told him it was impossible. Izzy kept his focus despite the
ridicule. By believing in himself and remaining true to his
dream, Izzy became the first Whatizit on Earth, and just in
time to be the Atlanta Games mascot!
with most heroic tales, facts are lost in the retelling. Exactly
how Izzy gained the power to leave Torch World is unclear. One
legend tells of a wise Elder's revelation that a Whatizit could
make it to Olympic Games on Earth, but only for the Centennial
Games. 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.
Another tale is that Izzy appeared before a Tribunal of Elders,
Citius, Altius, and Fortius. They agreed to grant Izzy special
magical powers that would enable him to go to the Centennial
Games if he earned the five rings competing in the Torch World
Games. Izzy trained hard and entered so many different events,
he was awarded the Blue Ring of Perseverance. Izzy refused a
medal for winning a cycle race because he had gotten lost
and had taken a shortcut. For his honesty, he received the Black
Ring of Integrity. In gymnastics, Izzy gave the performance
of a lifetime, but the judges scored it low. By not blaming
the judges and vowing to train harder instead, Izzy's good attitude
earned the Red Ring of Sportsmanship. A perfect hurdles race
won Izzy a gold medal and the Yellow Ring of Excellence. Izzy
was the first Whatizit to ever be awarded any of the rings.
Jealousy shrouded the Torch World and for the first time the
torch began to sputter and grow dim. For the sake of the torch
and in consideration of his fellow athletes, Izzy abandoned
his dream one ring short of his goal. In grand ceremony, the
Tribunal of Elders presented Izzy with the most prestigious
award of all, the Green Ring of Brotherhood. All the citizens
World, even the athletes who had been jealous, rejoiced and
celebrated the splendid accomplishments of Izzy, the little
blue Whatizit, and wished him well on his journey. The torch,
super-charged by the renewed spirit, regained its brilliant
Which story of his valor is true is immaterial.
The joining of all five rings gave Izzy special magical powers
that made it possible for him to "live the dream."
If you cried watching the movie Rudy,
as the little underdog trotted on the field for the first time
to play football for Notre Dame in the waning minutes of the
final game of his senior year, then you have got to feel good
you have a dream, you must stay true to it. Believe in your
dream, do everything you can to follow it, and you can make
it come true!"
Izzy the Mascot
was amazed as he began to acclimate to the many magical powers
joining the 5 Olympic rings had given him. Superior speed, strength,
agility, wisdom, and insight enabled him to do things Whatizits
never dreamed were possible. Among his new found strengths was
the ability to be amorphous. Izzy could magically transform
into any shape, size, or form. It was fun to "morph"
into and become a part of other things or beings. At last, Izzy
had the know how to use his amorphous powers to exit Torch World
and go to Earth to fulfill his Olympic Destiny.
1992 Barcelona Games were only five weeks away. The Atlanta
Games organizers were running out of time as they searched for
the perfect mascot. The committee had been deluged with mascot
suggestions from all over the world. Willie B., the beloved
gorilla from the Atlanta Zoo was a big favorite. Br'er Rabbit,
the folklore hare of Georgia author, Joel Chandler Harris, was
another. Flambeau, the Phoenix, the Greek mythological bird
that rose from its ashes, as did Atlanta after the Civil War,
seemed very appropriate. Still, the organizers were hoping for
something innovative and special to represent the Centennial
being a part of the Olympic Games foremost on his mind, the
first thing Izzy did was morph into the light fixture of an
office where the Atlanta organizers were having a committee
meeting. He listened in as they said choosing and marketing
the "right" mascot was imperative. The World would
judge the host city and the success or failure of its games
on how well their Mascot spread the "Olympic Spirit and
Goodwill" to all mankind.
Torch World all Whatizits spread the Olympic Spirit. "Mascot"
was a strange new word that intrigued Izzy. He yearned to know
more. Mom was just the one who could help! Izzy grabbed his
cell phone and called home to ask what a "mascot"
might be. Whatizits do not know about mascots, but Mom was not
about to admit she was clueless. Her motherly advice was to
research the subject on his computer, then he would always remember.
his laptop, Izzy learned that "Waldi," a squatty little
Dachshund, became the first official mascot for the Munich Games
of 1972. Since, the upcoming host city traditionally introduces
its "official mascot" at the closing of the previous
games. Caricatures of animals native to the host country are
usually chosen. As ambassadors of the Olympic Spirit, mascots
add a fun and exciting element to the Games that reaches beyond
language and cultural differences.
When Izzy left Torch World, his ambition was to
be the world's greatest Olympic athlete. All Whatizits are born
of the Olympic Spirit, so it was only natural that Izzy also
felt he was the perfect solution to the Mascot problem. With
his magical powers, Izzy was certain he could be both.
began his mascot campaign by morphing himself as an “idea”
within the mind of his creator, John Ryan. The little blue Whatizit
soon materialized as a computer generated sketch which John
submitted to the organizers as a candidate for Atlanta mascot
Committee for the Olympic Games President and CEO, Billy Payne,
instantly knew Izzy was the futuristic mascot he had hoped for.
The little “Blue Guy” with a green dad and a purple
mom was the perfect example of the diversity that had moved
Atlanta beyond racial prejudice. Izzy could easily transform
himself into a male
or female athlete, thus bridging the gender gap. This Torch
World citizen held no ties to Atlanta, Georgia, or the USA.
He could carry the flag of Afghanistan and Zimbabwe and all
the powerful or obscure nations in between with equality. Payne
and the ACOG staff were confident Izzy had the versatility and
the appeal to take the games to the next Millennium.
Mike Evans, the first of 42 live Izzy mascots, debuted as “Whatizit”
at the Barcelona Closing Ceremony. Volunteers had passed out
Whatizit pins for days. Olympic fans, already puzzled by the
pins, were shocked by the strange blue creature in big red sneakers
with a question for a name. The world, expecting a touch of
Southern charm, was not prepared for an “out of this world”
mascot! Atlantans were embarrassed by this "mascot disaster".
ACOG resisted pressure to terminate “Whatizit.”
Instead, the mascot underwent a makeover that softened his crude
expression. An advisory board of children was assembled to give
"Whatizit" a less confusing name. "Kirby,"
their first choice was vetoed because Nintendo had copyrights
to that name. Izzy, their second choice, became Izzy, a Whatizit,
citizen of Torch World, and official mascot of the 1996 Olympic
Games. Later a second makeover trimmed Izzy down, made him more
mobile, and added a cute little red nose.
Bashing", the first competition of the Atlanta Games, began
long before the Olympic Team trials. Competitors were not athletes,
but journalists taking advantage of Izzy's cold reception. The
battle of words was fought out daily in newspapers and magazines
as writers made sport of topping each other with Izzy insults.
The merciless monikers of the "lets trash the Atlanta mascot
craze" were humiliations such as Pizzy, a little mutant
monstrosity, a blue blob, a paint spill, toxic waste, an accident,
navel lint, a two-headed toad, a sperm in sneakers, Quasismurf,
Billy's folly, the product of a bad marriage between the ugliest
California Raisin and the Pillsbury Dough Boy and others that
bordered on the unprintable. Reporters were repulsed at the
thought of toddlers trading their teddy bears for the horrid
blue monster. They said Billy Payne's abominable mascot had
disgraced Atlanta, blowing its chance to become the next great
International City. History would reflect upon the Centennial
Games as the "Bubba Games." The Izzy Bashers were
so aggressive, people who liked Whatizit were afraid to admit
the media had its fun, Izzy began training. Unlike human athletes
who spend a lifetime practicing for the defining moment of a
single sport, Izzy trained for all 271 events on the Atlanta
schedule. At 4 1/2 feet tall and wearing size 22 sneakers, the
15 year old "Blue Thing" was looked upon as a joke,
not a medal contender.
by his amorphous powers, Izzy was faster, stronger and more
agile than was humanly possible. World records were surpassed
regularly in every sport as Izzy practiced. The more Izzy trained,
the more he pondered the consequences and fairness of his superiority.
Izzy's mission was not to undermine the Atlanta Games. He wanted
to make them special. Sportsmanship and goodwill meant more
than hogging up all the medals. Putting others ahead of himself,
as he had done in Torch World, Izzy concluded it was only fair
to leave the outcome of the medal races to the human athletes.
This decision, once made, gave Izzy time to work on changing
his image as the little blue monstrosity everybody loved to
hate. Repairing his floundering mascot image seemed impossible,
but Izzy vowed to give the world its greatest mascot for the
100th anniversary of the Modern Olympic Games. With his power
of wisdom and insight, he knew he would not fail.
Bashings" gave way to "Izzy Sightings." Atlanta
Centennial Olympic Properties, the marketing arm of ACOG, had
18 Izzy costumes manufactured by International Mascots. Soon
Izzy was everywhere, spreading the Olympic spirit and winning
the hearts of young and old alike. The growing demand for Izzy
kept his schedule coordinator, LaTara Bullock busy as well as
the many volunteers who endured the heat and weight of the costume.
Powered by the magic of Izzy the Whatizit morphed within them,
the live mascots created an excitement that won over more and
more Izzy fans with every appearance. As the Atlanta Games drew
near, the crowds of adoring Izzy fans grew into mobs. A great
day for any kid was the day he or she scored a hug or posed
for a picture with the lovable mascot!
of anything "Izzy" sold faster than stores could stock
them. The sale of Izzy merchandise topped $150,000,000, by far
exceeding the record of the previous most successful mascot,
Cobi, of the Barcelona '92 Games. Izzy skipped his way across
America as a part of the Olympic Torch Relay. He floated along
as a gigantic
helium filled balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
And yes, that was Izzy having the time of his life at the White
House Easter Egg Roll. Izzy was here. Izzy was there. Izzy was
revival of the Olympic Games in 1896 was an effort to promote
worldwide harmony through sports. The concept was perfect,
but the world is not. Disgruntled nations take away from the
"goodness" of the games with boycotts to make political
Izzy came to earth not knowing the meaning
of "mascot", but he learned his lesson well. Olympic
mascots speak or act out an international message that requires
no interpretation and is unlimited by boundaries. Izzy was
not " an American entity," but a champion of the
Olympic Spirit for all the world. It came as no surprise,
then, that the Atlanta Olympic Games were the first of the
modern era without a boycott. All 197 nations of the International
Olympic Committee sent teams.
Appropriately, the Atlanta mascot accomplished
a number of firsts, also. Izzy was the first mascot with his
own web site, the first to have his
own video game, the first to star in a movie, and the
first to become a theme park attraction. The movie, "Izzy's
Quest for Olympic Gold," aired as an animated special
on TNT, August 12, 1995. It was also distributed internationally.
"Wild Ride Izzy" became the world's first Olympic
inspired roller coaster at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg,
Izzy kept his promise. He was and still remains
the most successful mascot in Olympic history.
Perhaps the greatest testimonial to the
success of Izzy as the Atlanta Olympic Games mascot was a
bitter disappointment for Izzy, his creator, and the legion
of Izzy lovers throughout the world. ACOG excluded Izzy from
the Opening Ceremony and barred him from appearing at venues
while games were in progress. The reason: Izzy's presence
created such a frenzy of excitement, it would detract from
the solemn traditional ceremony or create a side show that
would draw the attention of spectators away from the Games.
Izzy had to settle for greeting his fans along the fringes
or delighting them from his Izzy Mobile in Centennial Park.
As the "World's Greatest Athlete," Muhammad
Ali, lit the torch to begin the Centennial Olympic Games,
the "World's Greatest Olympic Mascot," Izzy, was
hidden from view. But, who can say he was not there, "morphed"
as the Olympic Spirit within the hearts of the 10,320 world
class athletes and the 2,000,000 fans who made the Atlanta
1996 Centennial Olympic Games the "World's Greatest Sporting
Izzy Lives On!
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