ATLANTA (CNNfn) - He is mobbed by children at every one of his numerous daily appearances throughout Atlanta. Izzy, the official Olympic mascot of the Atlanta games, has become, much to virtually everyone's surprise, a celebrity.
Vendors have changed their initial impressions. "We thought it was horrible. I'm being honest. We thought it was a terrible idea. Now, they're really impressed. Everybody knows Izzy," said one souvenir peddler
What a difference a few years make. Some of the kinder descriptions of the mascot when it was first unveiled four years ago:
- Road kill
- A mutant monstrosity
- A bad marriage of the Pillsbury Doughboy and the ugliest California Raisin
- A genetic experiment gone horribly, ghastly wrong
Officials are now laughing all the way to the bank. Sales are projected at as much as $250 million, knocking the Barcelona Games' mascot, Cobi, from the top. Bob Hollander of Atlanta Centennial Olympic Properties, was boastful. (81K WAV) or (81K AIFF)
The success of Izzy made some think it was a scandal that it wasn't in the opening ceremonies. Olympic officials say he simply wasn't appropriate for the adult-oriented program. Izzy's creator, John Ryan, is disappointed.
"I guess in many ways he still is outside the inner circle. He is for kids. 'Let's play with him,' which is a shame."
Izzy began as "Whatizit" but underwent cosmetic changes suggested by child focus groups. Fame quickly beckoned. The Macy's Thanksgiving day parade, the Easter egg roll at the White House, his own cartoon special, (253K QuickTime movie) even his own home page on the Web. But adults still don't seem to get it.
So, while Izzy may not be invited to official ceremonies, he'll have to content himself with going home with hundreds of thousands of fans.