Although the history of the Olympics stretches back centuries, the quirky tradition of the Olympic mascot arrived only in the Mad Men era. For the past 48 years, characters such as Vinicius (above) -- an amalgam of Brazilian animals miraculously "born out of the explosion of joy" that occurred when Rio was named the 2016 host -- have been aimed at children as a marketing ploy.
But if the designs were truly intended for kids, why are they all so weird and creepy? We decided to do a "scientific" ranking of the weirdest of the weird, courtesy of a focus group of my three kids, ages 13, 14 and almost 15. Each kid voted independently, so as not to influence the others. Here we go: The Creepiest Mascots of All Time...
1. Wenlock and Mandeville; London 2012
Iris Design beat out over 100 competitors with these bizarre forms supposedly made from the last drops of steel used in construction of London's Olympic Stadium. My oldest child described this design as "Teletubbies Meets Power Rangers Meets Alien." And the best part? Wenlock's single eye is supposed to be a camera, "filming everything he sees," making him a gold medal creeper.
2. Neve and Gliz; Turin 2006
No country is more renowned for its style and artistry than Italy, so how exactly did the Turin Olympics end up with these blockheads? Neve, in red, represents a "graceful snowball," and Gliz, in blue, a strong and powerful ice cube. Those friendly smiles almost conceal their desire to attack somebody with an ice pick. Almost.
3. Schneemann; Innsbruck 1976
Olympic organizers, praying for plentiful snow for the 1976 Winter Games, opted for an overeager snowman topped with a traditional Tyrolean hat as a good luck charm. But Schneemann comes off as a little handsy. Can't you just hear a voice like Arnold Schwarzenegger's cooing, "Oh, sweetie, you won a gold medal? Come here and give your Old Uncle Schneemann a hug!"
4. Athena and Phevos; Athens 2004
Nearly 200 designers from around the world submitted designs for the 2004 Games, but Spiros Gogos won the bid with a couple of forgotten extras from The Simpsons. A sibling act, Athena and Phevos are supposed to symbolize equality between men and women, but Big Sister has at least 100 pounds on Baby Bro. In a co-ed wrestling match, the smart money's on Athena.
5. Amik; Montreal 1976
Canadians chose Amik, the beaver, as a symbol of patience and industriousness, but the minimalist design conveys a more scatalogical message. Let's be real: Amik looks like a giant turd. The diagonal red stripe across his belly represents an Olympic medal ribbon, but it looks more like a big "No" sign. As in, "Sorry, No Giant Turds Allowed."
6. Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki; Nagano 1998
American design firm Landor produced this quartet of snowy owls that look like big-nosed Chiclets come to life in a terrifying fashion. Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki also invoke the four elements of fire, air, earth and water, as well as the four years that make up an Olympiad -- because just being candy-colored owls with mildly deformed wings isn't remotely good enough to qualify for the Games.
7. Izzy; Atlanta 1996
Originally dubbed "Whatizit" and renamed by a focus group of 7- to 12-year-olds, the Olympic committee's website explains that Izzy is "an unusual mascot. ... He is not an animal, nor a human figure, nor an object." Whatizit then? A cross-eyed spore of mold? A giant, blue Jolly Rancher? Papa Smurf's long lost cousin? No way! Izzy's obviously a "piece of information technology" from 1996, the illustrious year of the Palm Pilot. (Duh.)
8. Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini; Beijing 2008
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Yingying the Tibetan antelope (because the games are so not about politics), Nini the swallow and Huanhuan the flame. Artist Han Meilin dubbed his characters the fuwa, or good luck dolls, but we prefer to call them Powerpuff Girls 2.0.
9. Syd, Olly, and Millie; Sydney 2000
Kangaroos and koalas? Total Australian clichés! Designer Matt Hatton's sketch of Syd, a humble duck-billed platypus, won him the mascot project, with Kookaburra Olly and Anteater Millie later added to the mix. The trio is designed to symbolize water, air and earth, but pop culture devotees will note the clear homage to the most popular girl group of the era, Destiny's Child. Millie, in the middle with her long flowing spikes, is such a Beyonce wannabe.
10. Misha; Moscow 1980
Russia's cuddly bear, adorned with an Olympic belt, was created by Victor Chizhikov, a children's book illustrator. But in the words of my 13-year-old daughter: "Misha looks sweet, but I feel like there's a killer inside."