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The skinny on Fatso

Amply-rumped wombat was real darling of the Games

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Latest: Sunday October 01, 2000 10:04 AM

 

SYDNEY, Australia -- I was waiting for a bus outside an aquatics session one afternoon, looking for a ride back to the Main Press Centre. Three Australians arrived at the bus stop and also waited. One of them opened a large shoulder bag and took out a stuffed official Olympic Games mascot.

The mascot - I think it was a platypus - was soaking wet. The Australian started to squeeze its body, twisting and turning it, trying to wring it out.

"What's the deal?" I asked.

"We had a diving competition," the Australian said. "We sent each of the mascots off the 10-meter platform and into the pool."

He took out another soaked mascot and began to twist and turn this one, again to wring out the water. Then another mascot. Then another. Then, Fatso, the fat-arsed wombat.

Fatso!

I should say that the official mascots, while cute and cuddly and brightly colored, never took off at the Sydney Olympics. They were too cute, perhaps, too similar, too something. People never fell in love with them. I should also say that Fatso, the fat-arsed wombat, became a star as big as Cathy Freeman or Ian Thorpe or any of the other Australian heroes.

Fatso appeared each night on a television show called The Dream, hosted by comedians H.G. Nelson and Roy Slavin. You may have heard about it, it's an irreverent late-night hoot on the Games that had visitors from countries all over the world laughing. Fatso was the show's mascot, the "people's mascot." His fame only increased when members of the Sydney organizing committee complained about him.

"This is the real Fatso?" I asked the Australian.

"Yes, it is," he said. "The diving competition was for the last show on Saturday night. We put some lead weights in Fatso's butt to make sure he won."

 
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There was only one Fatso, no replicas anywhere, nothing for sale, no promotion, nothing. (There's an Olympic oddity if there ever was one.) He was being auctioned over the Internet for charity, the highest bidder to be announced at the end of the show. The auction had just opened a few hours earlier. The bidding was up to $30,000.

I could not control myself.

"Uh, would you mind if I touched Fatso once?" I asked.

"No problem, mate," the Australian said, handing me the wet, fat-arsed doll. "Everybody asks."

I stroked the mascot's polyester fur. I stared into his crossed eyes. I tweaked his enormous back end. I handed him back to the Australian.

On Saturday night, I was in a pub somewhere in Sydney. The place was packed, The Dream on the screen. Sure enough, the diving competition arrived. One mascot after another toppled off the 10-meter platform. The topples were shown at three angles, replayed in slow motion, then fictional judges' scores were displayed across the bottom of the TV screen. The pub crowd hooted and cheered.

Fatso went last and to great applause. As shown by the underwater camera, he sank like a stone to the bottom of the pool. He was given a string of perfect 10's. The place went crazy. He won the gold medal.

I will admit that I felt a certain pride. Yes, I did. I am the confidant of the rich and famous. Yes, I am.

By the way, the final bid was $80,450. For a mascot.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Leigh Montville covered the Games in Sydney for the magazine and CNNSI.com.

 
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