You wouldn’t recognize him now.
He looks…Olympian. Herculean.
Those little blue stick legs the ad-agency gave him back in 1996? Those could be redwood tree trunks (if redwoods were blue). Those puny little T-Rex arms? Gordian knots of muscle and sinew.
Izzy, the official mascot for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, has reinvented himself.
You remember Izzy. He started life 20 years ago as a big blue sperm, the concoction of Atlanta planners who really, truly, sincerely thought a big blue sperm would inspire billions of viewers of the Olympic Games to order big blue sperm plush toys by the Chinese freighter load and then tuck their anxious children into bed next to a big blue sperm … with the lights turned out.
No mascot in the history of mascots ever met with such mass derision. Izzy was the Edsel, Ishtar, and New Coke rolled into one big blue fiasco.
During the 2012 summer Olympic Games, I interviewed Izzy. I found him sleeping under a viaduct, eating stolen pork skins and drinking mouthwash till he passed out.
That was then.
In 2016, I ran into Izzy at the Rio games. He’d just come off the Copacabana, escorted by the entire Russian women’s gymnastics team. He looked buff. The gorgeous girls couldn’t keep their hands off him.
For the first time ever, I wanted to be a big blue sperm.
“Izzy! You’re looking great! How the heck are you?”
Izzy answered in a deeply masculine voice several octaves lower than I remembered.
“It means ‘hey y’all’ in Russian,” Izzy winked. “I’ve gotten very fond of Russian stuff.” The girl gymnasts tittered. One did a backbend. She rubbed Izzy’s massive shoulders and thighs with her feet.
I marveled. “Russia? Like the Russia where there’s Putin?”
“There’s pootin’ everywhere,” Izzy snarked. The girls giggled again. “Especially in Rio. You try the black beans here? Ufff!”
I changed that subject. “But Izz, how’d you get so … freakishly super-developed? You’re not the same Olympic mascot we saw back in Atlanta.”
That’s what Izzy said. Just like that. I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Hey,” Izzy said, “you, my comrade, have no grounds for moral judgment. None. You didn’t come into this world as a big blue sperm. You didn’t get laughed off the map in the ’96 Games. You didn’t spend the next three Olympic Games hiding in disgrace in the bushes behind a Taco Bell in Hihira, Georgia.”
“But…” I stammered, “doping?”
Izzy stepped closer. I smelled hormones and sunscreen. He bent his gigantic blue arm, showing off a bicep the size of an important Himalayan peak.
“Did the folks in Atlanta give me a body like this? A self-image like this?” Izzy asked. “No. Atlanta gave me bulbous eyes and a fake smile the size of a two-door garage … and a ringed tail that shoots stars out the blowhole. I was designed by insane clowns on a slobbering ether binge. What if your parents had made you like that? Wouldn’t you want something better?”
The Russian dolls cooed. One did a handstand on Izzy’s ego.
“But … doping? You’re kidding, right?”
Izzy narrowed his bulbous eyes.
“You know,” he confided, “I second-guessed myself at first. I got tested and caught, and the rules committee wouldn’t let me compete in the Mascot Olympics against that clown Ronald McDonald and that Philly Phanatic freak … never mind Kermit the Frog, or Goofy and those nasty Disney Mouses.
“I could have beaten any of them. I coulda been a contender. But …”
“But what?” I waited …
“But I’m happy now with what I am … for the first time in my life.”
The Russian gymnasts sighed as one. Suddenly, the Russian beach volleyball team showed up, sand still moist on the backs of their pants. And Izzy got a hug from a voluptuous Russian sprinter. She looked like the gold medal winner in the Decathlon of Desire.
“Want to join us?” Izzy raised an eyebrow (bulging with muscle). “We’re headed over to Anna’s.”
“Sharapova. We’re going to work on my serve.”
I thanked Izzy, shook his hand (ouch!), and watched him swagger away surrounded by his admirers. A big blue sperm draws a crowd in Rio.
Then Izzy turned. He flashed that two-door garage smile.
“Putin’s dropping by,” he said, and then he winked. “We’re sending Trump a campaign donation.”
I couldn’t help but marvel. Different times. Different Izzy.
What in the world might 2020 bring?
Charles McNair lived in Atlanta from 1991 to 2015, when he moved to Bogota, Colombia. He writes full-time in the high Andes.