Wenlock watch: the final chapter

Historic Handshake
With the Olympic flame extinguished, the last chapter in the biggest story of the Games can finally be told. I have withheld the conclusion to Wenlock-gate until now, fearing it would overshadow the entire global festival and relegate Bolt, Phelps, Farah, Hoy and Ennis to mere footnotes in a chapter of Olympic history that could so easily have been entitled not “London 2012” but “Where the hell was the mascot?”
As most of the world surely knows, this blog broke the sensational news that Wenlock was nowhere to be found at the Olympic Park on the first Sunday of the Games. It then stayed ahead of the chasing international media pack by reporting a rare sighting and raising serious questions about Wenlock’s welfare before finally, if regretfully, publishing a hard-hitting report of his shameless showboating.
Lesser news outlets may have rested on their laurels at that point and waited for the Pulitzers to pile up. But this blog forged fearlessly ahead. It returned to the Olympic Park last week determined to find the mysterious mascot and confront him over his erratic antics. With the help of an expert Wenlock-tracker, I visited the spot where he was last seen. But it was eerily empty. In a quiet corner at the other end of the park, however, we finally found some traces of our quarry.
Like any celebrity, Wenlock has “people”. A posse of volunteers stood guard at a sign that proclaimed he would appear later that evening. Being a big shot, Wenlock did not turn up on time. He was a whole 15 minutes late. He then sent his personal assistant Bianca onto a stage to whip a crowd of youngsters into a frenzy ahead of his arrival. The reclusive blob of cooled molten metal deigned to appear only when everyone had yelled his name several times.
He proceeded to show off to the crowd, flooring Bianca in a shock pseudo-judo move. In the best traditions of investigative journalism, I managed to capture some grainy undercover footage of the incident:

As children queued to have their photo taken with Wenlock, I challenged Bianca about his behaviour. In the interests of fairness, I have to note that Bianca appeared to have good answers to a lot of my questions. She pointed out that the sign stated clearly where and when Wenlock could be found each day. I boldly suggested Wenlock could have tweeted his appearances in advance so that more people would know how to find him. I even went so far as to allege that Wenlock may not be doing his own Twitter, as his paws did not seem well suited to mobile telephone keypads. Bianca calmly explained that “no one of importance” handled their own Twitter account.
In response to my suggestion that London 2012 could have employed several Wenlocks, she said there could be only one. (She may have been channelling Queen, who seem to have been a favourite in the soundtrack of London 2012). Apparently this same rule is followed by Disney in their theme parks. A leading authority on these matters has told me there is only one Mickey “in the house of mouse” at any one time.
Nevertheless I remained determined to confront Wenlock himself. I have asked questions of world leaders. I have covered wars. But as child after child hugged Wenlock and beamed at having a picture taken with him, I confess that my nerve faltered. Even the brave boys of our armed forces wanted to get a photo with the irascible renegade. In the face of such great affection, I could not find it in my heart to grill the girder offshoot. When I finally came face-to-camera with this one-eyed wonder, I decided it was time to embrace the Olympic spirit and shook his paw to seal our reconciliation. Some may even allege that I joined Wenlock in an Usain Bolt-style celebration. But photographic evidence of any such shenanigans will remain even more elusive than Wenlock himself.
As Wenlock heads off into the London sunset to join other former Games mascots in a life free of official burdens, this blog wishes him well and thanks him for providing material for several posts which might otherwise have required something resembling actual journalism.

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Olympic Parklife and the House of Handball


In the days of ballooning budgets, lampooned logos, ticketing fiascos, stadium wrangles and security crises, the organisers of the London Olympics must have dreamed of days like this.
Spectators glide east to Stratford on modern trains, step into a station that is busy but not overwhelming, walk the short distance to the Olympic Park and pass through security in just a few minutes.
Once inside, tens of thousands wander around in the sunshine, entertained by buskers and bands. Under the bright blue sky of a warm summer’s evening, people picnic on grassy slopes and watch athletics from the Olympic Stadium on giant screens. Cheers go up as British athletes enter the finishing strait. When a long jumper claps her hands above her head to get the crowd involved in her run-up, people on the grass clap along even though they can’t be heard in the stadium.
Even the mocked mascot Wenlock has played his part, posing for pictures with children who line up to hug him. (Yes, this blog finally came face-to-screen with the hard-to-find figurehead and a post on this historic encounter will follow later.)
That was the Olympic Park yesterday. It was a bit like walking inside one of those utopian artists’ impressions or computer animations that property developers like to produce.
This blog offers no judgement about whether this is a wise use of £9 billion of public money (or more than £12 billion or even £24 billion, or whatever the true cost). Nor does it take a definitive view on whether we are victims of a massive marketing and brainwashing operation. It simply offers this earth-splitting conclusion: People were having a good time.
The same was true inside the House of Handball. Until a day or two ago, this was the Basketball Arena. But basketball has moved to a bigger home for its final games and handball has also moved up the Olympic property ladder.
Knowing very little about handball before last night’s quarter-final between Croatia and Tunisia, I undertook the kind of painstaking research that readers have come to expect from this blog. I consulted one of the world’s leading Olympic handball experts. Or, as she might also be described, a friend who saw her first game a few days ago after winning the tickets on a chocolate wrapper. The expert imparted many deep secrets about the finer points of handball, including “there’s a ball”, “they hold it in their hands” and “there appear to be no limits on fouling, apart from when the referee randomly decides that something is unacceptable”. All of these insights proved remarkably profound.
I felt quite at home in the House of Handball. They had just about the right mix between razzmatazz and sport. (Or maybe I an just more open to being blasted with loud music at 9:30 in the evening than I am at 9 in the morning, when I was watching women’s basketball.) Handball itself looked to this untrained eye like a cross between football and basketball, with a few rugby tackles thrown in. It’s a seriously tough sport. Players seem to end up on the floor a lot. “Floor technicians” (a.k.a. volunteers with big mops) wipe away the sweat they leave behind.
It’s also a fast, high-scoring game and the players are serious athletes, even if the Croatian goalkeeper with his splodgy green top and baggy track suit bottoms looked suspiciously like he had come straight from a spot of painting and decorating.
Last night’s match had pretty much everything you could want in a spectator sport — goals, skill, athleticism, sin bin suspensions, a red card and a close contest. Tunisia were a point ahead at half time but Croatia ended up winning 25-23.
As seems to happen all over these Olympics, the crowd stomped, clapped, cheered and yelled, even though handball has absolutely no tradition in this country. (Britain created its own men’s and women’s handball teams from scratch for these Games.)
Afterwards, as people streamed towards Stratford station, the Olympic Park felt quite different from the first Sunday. There was a certain tension then. Some of the volunteers giving directions sounded a little bossy. Now, the place has found its rhythm and everyone seems relaxed. We’ve done it, their body language seems to say. We’ve done this now, day after day, and it works.
Outside the station, a volunteer in a hijab sitting on a lifeguard-style high chair sang “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” through a loudspeaker. Down below, a young guy with a Spanish flag delighted in shouting to volunteers: “Can I have your finger?” He meant the big pink foam hands with outstretched fingers the volunteers use to point the way. The volunteers cheerfully declined. But the guy and his friends found a small pile of their objects of desire by the station entrance, grabbed one and made a run for it. Their Olympic experience was complete.

Wenlock watch update: Shameless showboating

This blog was created to convey the London Olympic experience by fusing years of journalistic practice with the glowing white heat of social media and citizen reporting. It is, therefore, something of a surprise to discover that its most popular work so far concerns a mouthless mascot.
Yet is that not a perfect metaphor for life itself? Sometimes someone thrusts a mutant Teletubby into your hand and you just have to run with it. Inspire A Generation indeed.
Having broken the biggest story of the Games so far by revealing Wenlock’s shock no-show at the Olympic Park and following up with an exclusive report of a rare sighting, this blog has continued to keep a close eye on the feckless figurehead’s movements.
It pains me to say that the evidence is incontrovertible: Wenlock is a shameless showboating mercenary who turns up only when he sees a chance of money and fame for himself. (Some may argue that this makes him a perfect mascot for London in 2012, particularly its bankers and politicians, but this blog chooses to take a less cynical view.)
I can exclusively reveal that Wenlock was nowhere to be seen at Wembley last week at the South Korea v Gabon match. Nor did he deign to put in an appearance at the women’s basketball on Friday morning. In fact, once again there was no sign of him anywhere in the Olympic Park that day.
I also scanned television pictures of the men’s tennis final but there was no trace of Wenlock even at Wimbledon. (He may have feared being attacked by a disgusted member of The Wombles, well known for their work ethic and surely appalled by his work-shy foppery.)
But where was Wenlock only too happy to be seen at the weekend? At the Olympic Stadium, of course. Cavorting around on prime-time television as Britain won triple gold on Saturday and Usain Bolt took the 100 metres title on Sunday. Most shamelessly of all, he was also thrusting golden Wenlocks into the hands of Olympic champions. There can be no doubt that he has signed a lucrative image rights deal with the Olympic organisers and will be rubbing himself with cash as innocent children pester their parents into ordering golden Wenlocks from the London 2012 website. But Wenlock is nothing if not a thoroughly modern mascot. Not content with this barefaced commercialism, he took to Twitter to boast about it and secure yet more free advertising:

Even here, Wenlock cannot help but reveal his true colours. A fan responds to his tweet by asking if he will be at the canoe sprint on Wednesday. His response is no surprise to those of us who have come to know him well — nothing but snooty silence. (I think by now we can all imagine him glancing at his phone in disbelief. “Canoe slalom? Are you kidding? I don’t get out of bed for anything less than a 20 million TV audience!”)
One other possible reason for Wenlock’s elusiveness has recently come to my attention. I have been struck by how some female readers of this blog have leapt to his defence. Despite having been branded creepy and terrifying by a leading American expert, Wenlock is clearly something of a ladies’ mascot. One female friend of the blog has described him as “very cute” and “quite cuddly when I met him”. I was, of course, too polite to ask any more but I suspect Wenlock may be especially hard to spot during the day as he is still sleeping off some high living from the night before.
Surely it is high time that Wenlock explained himself. If he wants to prove he is not just a  ruthless glory-hunter, I challenge him to meet me at the women’s football semi-final this afternoon or the handball quarter-finals on Wednesday night. Rest assured he will not escape tough questioning just because he is a non-human. An exemplary precedent has already been set in this area…

Wenlock Watch: breaking news!

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.

The mystery of the missing mascot

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.