Say hello to Sumi, Quatchi and Miga
The Vancouver Olympic Games' mascots are a strange mix of West Coast wildlife, First Nations legend and cartoon cuteness
Ken MacQueen | Nov 28, 2007 | 15:10:13
With just 27 more sleeps ‘til Christmas the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games(VANOC)unveiled its biggest, deepest, darkest secret before 800 screaming school kids Tuesday in a Surrey, B.C. auditorium. Meet Miga, Quatchi, Sumi and sometimes Mukmuk, their marmot sidekick—the 3 ½ mascots of the Vancouver Olympic Games.
So hush-hush were these little critters that just 15 people out of the hundreds toiling for VANOC knew their identities before the Big Reveal at a glitzy review that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Las Vegas stage. That is, if Vegas had kiddy matinees. Also in on the secret were members of the International Olympic Committee, who had to approve the sales potential of the fuzzy little profit centres.
Grinning like proud parents after an arduous labour were the critters’ artist-inventors Vicki Wong of Vancouver and Michael Murphy of Los Angeles. Their company, Meomi Design, beat out 177 professionals from around the world who expressed interest in creating the mascots. Meomi was selected in December 2006 and since then, Wong and Murphy jumped through way more hoops than the five Olympic rings before satisfying VANOC they had created the elusive wallet-opening cuteness so essential to the Games’ bottom line.
How adorable do they have to be? Well, by some estimates, stores will have to move some $500 million to $600 million in product—plush toys, T-shirts, books and whatnot—if VANOC is to meet its merchandizing revenue goal of about $46 million. That’s a lot of sweetness and light.
Vancouver-born Wong says she and Murphy drew their inspiration from American TV, and B.C.’s wilderness and its fusion of cultures. The characters are a mishmash of West Coast wildlife, First Nations legend and cartoon cuteness.
Miga is a surfing, snowboarding “sea bear” inspired by a legend of orca whales that transform into bears on land. Miga made something of an incomplete transformation. She—to the extent that she is a she—still carries a dorsal fin on her head. She also turned half white, like the rare all-white Kermode bears that are found on B.C.’s isolated central west coast. Although she resembles a panda with severe lower-body liposuction, she was the clear favourite among most girls in the audience.
Quatchi is a big, young galumph of a sasquatch. He wears earmuffs and dreams of being a world-famous goalie. He reminds us, in the words of VANOC, “of the mystery and wonder that exist in the natural world.” Or at least on television and at your local toy store.
Sumi, the mascot for the Paralympic Games, is a “spirit animal” that wears the Coast Salish hat of an orca whale, has the powerful legs of a bear and the flapping wings of a mythical thunderbird. Sumi is a variant of the Anglo-American phrase “sue me,” or more precisely, “sue you,” which is what will happen if its Olympic trademark is misused for commercial gain. OK, not true. Sumi comes from the Salish word “Sumesh,” meaning “guardian spirit,” which is sort of the same idea.
Added to the mix is a first-ever Olympic sidekick, Mukmuk, a short, fat toque-wearing Vancouver Island marmot. Mukmuk, the cutest one of the bunch, seems doomed to a minor supporting role, kind of like Superman’s Jimmy Olsen, Yogi Bear’s Boo Boo, or the vice-president of the United States. While people-filled versions of all of the Big Three mascots were on stage in Surrey, dancing, hugging children and posing for pictures, Mukmuk had only a brief animated cameo role, possible due to a paucity of actors of the approximate height and circumference of a 10-pin bowling ball.
Miga, Quatchi and Sumi(and sometimes Mukmuk)join a historic mix of Olympic mascots that range from the cute to the forgettable to the downright bizarre. Montreal’s 1976 Summer Games had Amik the beaver. Calgary in 1988 set a high water mark with Hidy and Howdy, the cowboy hat-wearing white bears. Los Angeles had a jingoistic Sam, an American eagle in stars and stripes. Athens sported Athena and Phevos, who resembled the sort of genetic mutation that might occur after a nuclear accident.