LeRoy Walker, the U.S.'s chef de mission at the Olympics and nominee as the next president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, opened a can of worms last week when he proposed that all members of future U.S. teams be made to reside in the Olympic Village. Walker, who had heard countless complaints from U.S. athletes about the luxury accommodations enjoyed by many of their more famous compatriots, said that those who live outside the Village are showing disdain for the Olympic experience. "It's very simple," he said. "If you are an Olympian, you are a member of a team. I am opposed to any exceptions; I don't care who you are."
The most conspicuous absentees from the Olympic Village were, of course, the members of the Dream Team, who stayed at the $900-a-night Ambassador Hotel. That seemed extreme, but so did the Village, with its small rooms, lack of privacy and absence of air-conditioning. Besides, for decades Olympic athletes of means from many countries have chosen less spartan surroundings than the Village. That didn't make these athletes any less Olympian.
The members of the U.S. women's basketball team were offered the same accommodations as their male counterparts, but they preferred the ambience and camaraderie of the Olympic Village. Good for them. Also bad for them. Said Lin Dunn, an assistant coach on the U.S. women's team, "Being in the Village is special. But when the only air you're fanning in your room is hot air, when the only showers you take are cold, I'm not so sure we'd do this again. We're people used to air-conditioning."
To his credit, Walker stayed at the Village. But he also had a room at the $400-a-night Hotel Victoria to freshen up for USOC meetings there. For him or any other USOC official to suggest that all American athletes stay in the Village is at best unrealistic and at worst hypocritical. Those who demand uniform accommodations for Team USA are blowing hot air.
Members of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) walked around Barcelona wearing buttons with WHATIZIT written on them. People assumed it was simply a reference to the oft-asked question, "What will be the mascot of the '96 Games?" But as people found out at the closing ceremonies, Whatizit was more than a way to stir people's curiosity; it was the answer to the question.
Created by DESIGNefx, a subsidiary of Crawford Communications of Atlanta, Whatizit is a computer-generated blue blob that can permutate into any shape. For example, a computer can turn Whatizit's basic body into a soccer ball or a basketball or even a taxi cab. Whatizit also has five Olympic-rings (three on its tail, two over its eyes), and it leaves a trail of stars in its wake to symbolize the Olympic spirit.
Before settling on Whatizit, ACOG rejected more than 1,000 mascot suggestions: squirrels, possums, peanuts, peaches and even Willie B., the famous TV-watching gorilla at the Atlanta Zoo. The rough design for Whatizit was agreed upon about three months ago, and, according to ACOG vice-president Ginger Watkins, the secret was so closely guarded that "our motto was, If we show it to you, we have to kill you."
IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who has a stuffed prototype of Whatizit in his office, is said to love the mascot. Says ACOG president Billy Payne, "This mascot gives us a lot of flexibility. I mean, he is Mr. Personality. We believe Whatizit is going to be very popular. At least, everybody we've shown it to so far likes it."