Friday, January 1, 2010

Russia to world: I bring you fluffy mascots in peace

George Waters column for Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014:

Friday night the Olympics in Russia began, as Peyton Manning would very much like you to remember. Sochi, Russia, is an unusual choice for the winter games, because it has a "subtropical" climate, and mild, cool winters with flurries of kickbacks to contractors and politicians. The cost is estimated at almost 10 times that of the 2010 Games, but this is probably because in Russia you have to buy winter from a guy who knows a guy.

The average winter temperature in Sochi is 43 degrees, which, I would have pointed out to the Olympic site-selection committee, is NOT FREEZING. Luckily, many Olympic events occur indoors, and the Russians have built lots of venues for them. Speed skating will occur in Adler Arena, which, in keeping with the tradition of cutting-edge Russian design, looks like a car's air filter.

A clean one. I am not trying to be critical.

But the Olympics are not about the buildings. They are, foremost, about the mascots which can be found on many souvenirs for sale online.

The mascots are a snow hare, a polar bear, and a snow leopard. Upon their unveiling, the designer of the 1980 Moscow Olympics mascot, Misha the bear, reportedly complained that the polar bear's face was borrowed from Misha wholesale, and constituted (my Russian is not too great here, I admit) a kind of "fluffy plagiarism."

In another controversy, one of Russian President Putin's opponents declared that the polar bear closely resembles the mascot of Putin's currently ruling political party, which he claims constitutes a kind of (apologies here, again) "fluffy propaganda."

Nevertheless, you may find these mascots on highly collectible souvenirs, like (I kid you not) a plush "house for cats," the doorway of which has snow hare ears poking up, in keeping with the timeless dignity of sport.

But what about the athletes, you ask? Having gained fame in 1988 as the Jamaican bobsled team, the Jamaican bobsleigh team is returning once again. Bobsleigh is very similar to bobsled except, critically, it involves three entirely new letters.

Idle thoughts:

If Austrians Anna Gasser and Wolfgang Linger married, she would be Anna Gasser-Linger, and nobody would want to spend much time in her vicinity.

I wonder if, as he performs his tricks, Chinese snowboarder Yi Hu yells his own name.

Regardless, welcome, Russian Olympics! Or as they say in the old country, "Dabro pozhalovat!" ("This way to the t-shirts!")