Pedro from Barcelona Owns 500 Olympic Mascots
What's the point of spending millions to push poor people out of their homes, if you can't make some of that cash back by selling plush toys, pins and T-shirts.
This article originally appeared on VICE Spain
The first official Olympic mascot was a Dachsund named Waldi that appeared in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Ever since, every city hosting the competition has designed a mascot, supposedly representing its cultural heritage. Because what's the point of spending millions to push poor people out of their homes, if you can't make some of that cash back by selling plush toys, pins and T-shirts.
Pedro Luis Martínez from Barcelona has a collection of about 500 items of Olympic Games merchandising – and most of them are representations of Cobi, the Catalan sheepdog that served as the mascot of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. I sat down with him to ask why.
VICE: Hi Pedro, when did you start collecting these?
Pedro: I cannot recall a specific time but it should be during the 1990s. I was a kid during the Barcelona Olympics, and all children were over-exposed to promotional products for that at the time. A lot of brands gave small promotional toys as gifts – pencil sharpeners, rubbers, keychains... One of my fondest memories is Frigo's (Wall's) Cobi ice cream. As a child, I liked to pretend I was holding opening ceremonies using this mascot's package.
It should be noted that I was never taken to any of these events and maybe the habit of collecting these things comes from a childhood frustration that I have subsequently gotten over quite well – or at least that's what I think.
How many items do you own right now?
I haven't done an inventory of the collection, but I estimate around 500 pieces. They tend to be quite small, so theytake up little space when properly stored in their boxes. Luckily the collection only grows every two or four years, during the Summer and Winter Games.
Looking at the pictures of your collection, the protagonist is clearly Cobi. Is that just because the games he represented were taking place in our hometown or is there something else that makes him special?
Javier Mariscal's Cobi is special from a design point of view. He is drawn in a cubist style, based on interpretations of Velázquez's Las Meninas by Picasso. I think that's pretty inspired.
Were all these items hard to find?
No. Finding mascots is not complicated, if you know how to search: there's eBay, plus flea markets or antique shops, where you can find very interesting Olympics merch. The most expensive ones are usually the rarest ones. I've been looking for the owls of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano and Albertville's Magique (1992 Winter Games) for ages.
Which are the rarest and the most expensive items you have in your possession?
I have an 11-pound-Cobi holding a Danone yoghurt. I couldnt focus on work for a while because all I could think of was obtaining him.
Some people think of Olympic mascots as tacky and nonsensical. How do you feel about that?
People really say that? I don't know how to take that... I guess the concept of a mascot is tacky. But you just have to walk around the Olympic Museum in Barcelona to see that "big family" of characters all together, their permanent smiles drawn on. Some will think they are tacky, others will fall in love with them and others may even seem scary. I fell in love.
Some of the pieces from your collection were exhibited in China. How did that happen?
Yes, World Fair organisers from Barcelona got in touch with me during the Shanghai 2010 World Fair and asked if I could lend them a piece. That's when I realised that the collection is more than just an eccentric hobby. Cobi went to China and returned a year later, happy after a trip that I would have loved to do myself.
Later on, on the occasion of Cobi's 20th anniversary, an exhibition was organised in Dudua, an art school in Barcelona, in which I showed some pieces and various artists reinterpreted the dog their way. I also remember how nervous I was when I had to give a speech on the history of these characters at Ilu·station festival.