Having exposed what has quickly become known around the world as Wenlockgate, the scandal of the missing Olympic mascot, this blog is staying ahead of the pack with the latest news on this major story. I can report that Wenlock apparently re-emerged yesterday but serious questions remain about his welfare and wellbeing.
First, Wenlock’s Twitter feed twitched into life after several days of silence:
But expert mascotologists noted there was no evidence of Wenlock himself in the picture, raising questions about whether he had actually been at the rowing at all. The Twitter account later posted a picture of a bizarre statue of the fugitive figurehead but once again there was no clear sign of life.
Even if these tweets come from the real Wenlock, that still makes him about as active on Twitter as an empty seat at an Olympic venue, which has its own Twitter feed. Three tweets since the start of the Games is really not much Wenlock.
Later came the most exciting development of the day. One of this blog’s many correspondents spotted him in the Olympic Park and captured this undercover shot:
Wenlock was apparently posing with visitors in the park, a clear improvement on Sunday, when he was nowhere to be seen. But surely I cannot be alone in finding this picture deeply disturbing? It seems Wenlock has been cornered by Olympic “volunteers” and is about to be forcibly returned to a secure location.
Concerns mounted for the enigmatic girder offshoot even as this report was going to press when it emerged the London 2012 mascots’ official website had gone offline:
Surely the use of police uniform cannot be lightly dismissed. Is this a coded cry for help to Scotland Yard?
Among the other questions requiring urgent answers:
Was Wenlock stung into making a bit of an effort by this blog’s stunning exposé yesterday? Is he the world’s laziest mascot and just not capable of any more?
Is he a member of the Amalgamated Mascotworkers and Other Adults In Fancy Dress Union and bound by their strict restrictions on working hours? Is he not allowed to work weekends or is he protesting against his pay and conditions by working to rule?
Does he remain in the clutches of terrorists or criminals who let him out briefly in an effort to put the world’s media off the scent after yesterday’s scoop? Did he make a brief break for freedom before being recaptured, as the picture clearly suggests?
Did Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the Games organising committee, decide to run around in a Wenlock suit for a few hours yesterday just to get a break from all those questions about empty seats?
Any sightings of Wenlock, or theories about his bizarre behaviour, can be posted below or reported to dispatchesfrom2012 (at) gmail (dot) com. They will, of course, be treated with the seriousness and sensitivity this matter deserves.
Some snapshots from the Olympic Park yesterday.
More dispatches from the Olympic Park will follow later but one question simply cannot wait: Where’s Wenlock?
Wenlock, for the uninitiated, is the official London 2012 Olympic mascot and this blog was under strict instructions to secure photographs of him in his natural habitat for some of its younger followers. I took those instructions very seriously. The motto of these Games is Inspire A Generation, and what could be more inspiring than pictures of a grown man or woman dressed up as a weird one-eyed being with a taxi light on its head?
The Olympic Park is spread over 2.5 square kilometres, the equivalent of 257 football pitches. I trekked all over this unforgiving terrain for hours but I could see no sign of a “live” mascot. In the end, I had to settle for a statue of the elusive creature, guarded by London 2012 volunteers who made sure no one hogged too much time with him.
Frankly, I expected to be besieged by a welter of Wenlocks (maybe with Mandeville, the Paralympic mascot), posing for pictures with children and making fools of adults in the way that only men in ridiculous costumes can. But Wenlock has clearly gone AWOL or MIA.
I have conducted extensive investigative work to confirm my thesis. There can be no doubt. Searches of both Google and Flickr show no recent images of the real Wenlock, despite many thousands of people having visited the Olympic Park in the past few days. Even his Twitter feed has gone ominously quiet.
This begs some obvious questions:
Is this another contract security company G4S has failed to fulfil? Had they promised to supply 500 Wenlocks only to confess at the last minute that they had failed to find a single suitable person with a three-pointed head?
Does this mean our troops will again have to step into the breach? Are soldiers fresh from the front line in Helmand about to discover their next assignment requires a rather different uniform? And will they get a shoulder patch or medal adorned with Wenlock as recognition for saving the nation’s blushes once more?
Will Mitt Romney declare the mascot mess-up “disconcerting” and find himself again assailed by every British politician and journalist as if he had suggested that we have outsourced the running of the Olympics to Syria’s Assad regime? (Romney must have been glad to move onto the safer ground of Middle East politics the other day after discovering just how dangerous it was to respond to the question “Is Britain ready for the Olympics?” with the answer “I don’t really know”.)
Has Wenlock been kidnapped by terrorists or organised criminals? Has a news blackout been imposed? Is this why the major media outlets have not reported on the biggest story of the Games so far?
There is a slightly serious point to all of this. The organisers have already deprived most visitors to the Olympic Park of one obvious photo opportunity by keeping the Olympic flame inside the stadium. They could at least get a few volunteers into Wenlock costumes so kids can get their picture taken with him.
As the train approached its stop last night, I walked to the back of the carriage to be a vital few seconds closer to the station exit. I leapt onto the platform, vaulted the steps two at a time, sprinted home and raced up more stairs in the hope of catching Hannah Miley of Scotland and Great Britain in the final of the women’s 400 metre individual medley swimming.
Before yesterday, I had barely heard of Hannah Miley. I could easily have confused her with a character in a Disney teen movie. But she had been identified in the morning as one of Britain’s main medal hopes of the day.
That’s the power of the Olympics. Or, depending on your point of view, to paraphrase the New Radicals, maybe I’ve been brainwashed too.
I made it just in time to root for Miley. Unfortunately, she finished fifth.
That’s as close as I got to Olympic action on the first day. Away from the Olympic bubble, life in London seemed seemed remarkably unaffected by the Games. In parts of the north and southeast of the city, stations were not crowded, trains were not busy.
My first visit to the Olympic Park is later today but this blog’s northwest London correspondent was there yesterday and gave it a general thumbs-up. The landscaping, complete with wild flowers, was declared a success, the atmosphere was friendly and there was plenty of space. Attempts to hype up the mood in the basketball arena — kiss cams, bongo cams and incitations to do the macarena — were, however, not appreciated.
The organisers like to stress that these are green Games and this apparently extends to having poncho recycling bins on the site.
One thing that struck me about the park, also highlighted in some media reports, is that the Olympic flame can’t be seen outside the stadium. That seems a shame, especially as the cauldron was one of the outstanding elements of the opening ceremony.
And finally, about that ceremony. I wasn’t there (my only connection was that from my living room I could hear the fireworks booming) but my impression was that it sprang from a monster brainstorming session, quite possibly involving large amounts of drugs, in which someone yelled the word “Britain” and people shouted back whatever came into their heads.
With a bit more time to reflect, I can appreciate the energy, invention and amazing technical skill that went into the spectacle.
The British media and public seem overwhelmingly to have loved it, with a Conservative MP pretty much the only dissenting voice.
The verdict from this blog’s worldwide network of correspondents was, in that time-honoured journalistic phrase, mixed. A Perthshire correspondent used the word “hideous” at one point and reported that her six-and-half year-old son had gone off to bed in disgust after watching the first 20 minutes. Her four and three-quarter year-old daughter was, however, “loving it”.
A dispatch on Facebook from the United States declared: “Someday, someone is going to have to explain London’s Opening Ceremony to me. The best thing about it was the kids choirs at the beginning. From the nation that gave the world the Magna Carta, Parliament, Shakespeare, the Beatles, and my mother, the best they could do was celebrate the National Health Service?”
A north London source declared the ceremony “bonkers”. I am pretty sure this was meant as a compliment.
But the last word goes to the blog’s chief Scotland correspondent (who also reported an impressive 37,000 crowd in Glasgow the other day for Spain v Japan in the men’s football). Well known for having his finger on the pulse of the popular mood, he pronounced the ceremony amazing: “Queen and James Bond, Mr Bean and Gregory’s Girl? What’s not to love?”
The official London 2012 Olympic torch is “made up of an inner and an outer aluminium alloy skin, held in place by a cast top piece and base, perforated by 8,000 circles“. In April, it won the award for Britain’s Design of the Year.
Its alter-ego is made from a toilet plunger, curled gold wrapping ribbon and strips of yellow felt with the words “End Poverty” emblazoned in red.
This afternoon in Clissold Park in north London, as children splashed in a paddling pool and people ate lunch in an outdoor cafe, a few dozen activists critical of the Olympics gathered to send this alternative torch on the latest leg of its own relay.
This relay is rather different from the official one. Needless to say, there was no Coca Cola bus. Nor were there throngs of people trying to catch a glimpse of the “poverty torch”, created by activists opposed to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and handed on to London’s Counter Olympics Network. (It’s a safe bet, I think, that the acronym was not created by chance). They, in turn, plan to pass the torch to opponents of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Two of those opponents were in Clissold Park today, one of them dressed in a traditional long green dress with gold trim.
The small crowd cheered and clapped as John Thornton, a local disabled activist, carried the torch in his wheelchair to the park gates to get the relay going.
“Although I’ve been always very keen on sports, I’ve always been horrified by the impact of the Olympics on the host countries,” Thornton said. “It’s usually an operation for the benefit of commercial organisations, not for sports.”
After the torch had gone on its way, Gail Chester, a co-founder of CON, wearing a white T-shirt with the London 2012 logo and the words “official protester”, was talking to me when a woman stopped to ask what she was protesting about. When Chester explained, the woman said she wasn’t happy missiles were being sited in London due to the Games but, she said defiantly as she turned away, “I think the Olympics are fantastic”.
“Do you like the fact that it’s costing £24 billion?” Chester called after her.*
*The official cost to taxpayers is about £9 billion but a Sky News investigation concluded in January that the true price was more than £12 billion and could be more than £24 billion if other items of Olympics-related spending were included.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been getting a pasting here for comments he made about the London Olympics. Even the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, James Naughtie, declared that Romney looked “a bit stupid” and had “really put his foot in it” (about 7:17 in here).
Romney has experience of organising an Olympics, having been brought in to clean up and run the Salt Lake City winter Games after the corruption scandal there. Here’s what he actually said in his interview with NBC News, according to the official transcript…
And in the short time you’ve been here in London, do they look ready to your experienced eye?
You know, it’s hard to know just how well it were turn out– will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the– private security firm not having enough people– the sup– supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging. Because in the games, there– there are three parts that makes games successful.
Number one, of course, are the athletes. That’s what overwhelmingly the games are about. Number two are the volunteers. And they’ll have great volunteers here. But number three are the people of the– of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the games actually begin.
It seems spectacularly uncontroversial stuff. I bet much stronger language than “disconcerting” was used by members of the British government when they discovered they were several thousand security guards short with only a few weeks to go.
I’ve written a piece for the Huffington Post, based on my experience of covering previous Olympics. It’s here.