Olympic -sized hype

Thank goodness. After an almost 18-month layoff after the Sydney Summer Olympics, the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics is arriving to shock the world out of its hum-drum existence with two weeks of exciting Biathlon action. That’s cross-country skiing and marksmanship, dude.

But the Olympics isn’t just about the fierce competition in curling – it’s about massive marketing efforts.

Every company that is worth its weight in trinkets is scrambling to produce official merchandise or earn an official sponsorship. Visa is the only card even accepted at the official online store, and Coke products will soon be the only liquid you can drink or bathe in. It’s a blitzkrieg.

Which brings us to the subject of Olympic mascots. The Salt Lake Games bring us three adorable animals: Powder the snowshoe hare, nicknamed “Swifter,” because he is fast or something; Coal the American black bear, dubbed “Stronger” for being strong; and Copper the coyote, who is called “Higher” thanks to his prodigious consumption of psychedelic toadstools (There’s also an otter named Otto, who is the mascot of the Paralympics. This despite having no visible disabilities).

So how does this year’s crop of plush- and bean bag-models stack up to the marketing tools of the past? Since the Sydney Games also used a trio of native animals, these SLC punks get points off for imitation. At the Nagano olympics, extremely weird and extremely cool snow owls (“Snowlets”) took center stage, and they were a lot better than this year’s crop.

But all is not lost. Powder, Copper and Coal are certainly better than Izzy, the amazing blue thing with the stars in his eyes and the lightning bolt eyebrows created for the Atlanta Summer Olympics. And no mascot could possibly be worse than Schuss, the symbol of the 1968 Grenoble Winter Games. Schuss looks like an inflamed sperm on skis. Let us never speak of him again.

Powder, Copper and Coal are cute, no matter what their predecessors have over them. They will sell a million stuffed animals and beanie babies. And that’s all that’s really asked of them.

There is just one lingering problem, which is that there is currently a bounty on coyotes in Utah because they are blamed for a shrinking deer population. Hunters get paid 20 bucks for every pair of coyote ears they turn into the state.

Hypocrisy? Absolutely. Enough to make a smiling, ski-jumping plush coyote frown?

Not if he’s making children laugh. nyou