Mike Rowbottom

The less said about the London 2012 mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville - or was it Manlock and Wendeville? - the better. So let’s leave it at that. Spawn of Cyclops…

London 2012 would have done better to have got Blue Peter on the case, as happened when the Olympic Stadium hosted the World Athletics Championships five years later with the aid - and occasional abetment - of Hero the Hedgehog.

Hero was created by a nine-year-old named Elinor from the West Midlands, whose entry to the competition arranged by the long-running BBC children’s programme was adjudged winner from more than 4,000 entries.

Elinor had chosen a hedgehog because they were an endangered species in the United Kingdom. At one point during those 2017 World Championships, after Hero had goaded a field event judge to the point of madness through an extended charade involving balloons, squirted water and rabble-rousing mockery, you could see why.

Today the mascot for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Perry, has emerged to public view. Like Hero, he has been designed by a child - in this case 10-year-old Emma Lou.

Also like Hero, rather than being some abstruse, historical, designed-by-committee amalgam, Perry is an actual animal. Perry is a bull.

Perry the Bull, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games mascot, pictured in the back garden of his creator, 10-year-old Emma Lou ©Birmingham 2022
Perry the Bull, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games mascot, pictured in the back garden of his creator, 10-year-old Emma Lou ©Birmingham 2022

The bull is the animal with which Birmingham has been synonymous for centuries. The city has had a market area known as the Bull Ring since the 16th century and the site is close to the current Bullring shopping centre, with an iconic bronze bull statue at its entrance.

Perry is named after the Perry Barr area of Birmingham, the home of the Alexander Stadium, which is currently undergoing a £72 million ($99 million/€83 million) renovation so it will be ready to host the athletics events at the Commonwealth Games, as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

The mascot’s rainbow-coloured hexagons are said to represent the coming together of the Commonwealth in equal partnership at the Games which are due to start next July.

To mark the announcement, a picture was taken in the back garden of Emma Lou’s house in Bolton featuring her and her creation. Simple and joyful…

Let’s hope those giant pink slipper-like hoofs of Perry’s allow him to be quick and nimble around the Alexander Stadium when the time comes. Because Perry is the latest in a line of escalatingly active operators at big sporting championships.

I wasn’t at the Berlin 2009 World Athletics Championships, but those who were will never allow any subsequent mascot to come between them and Berlino the Bear. This ursine interloper did not exactly steal the show from the likes of Usain Bolt, then at his zenith, but he at least shared it.

Whether it was giving Jamaica’s newly installed world 400 metres hurdles champion Melaine Walker a piggy-back - until he deposited her suddenly on the blue Mondo after bumping into the back of the van collecting the barriers - or getting flung over the shoulder of home discus winner Robert Harting, or standing alongside Bolt mirroring his signature pose for the massed photographers, Berlino could not bear to be out of the spotlight.

Three years before those London World Athletics Championships I covered the European Athletics Championships in Zurich, and looking back on them now, honestly, the two clearest memories I have are of France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad apparently completing a second successful defence of his 3,000m steeplechase title with his vest jammed in his mouth, for which he was subsequently and controversially disqualified, and Cooly the Cow making an impressive clearance in the pole vault.

Cooly, "the cool cow", had already established cult status in Switzerland after being a hugely popular mascot during the 2009 Ice Hockey World Championship, and he demonstrated admirable athleticism in the course of the Zurich gathering, also showing prowess over the hurdles.

Somebody told me Cooly was a decathlete in "real life". Frankly I didn’t want to know about "real life" when it came to Cooly. I just wanted to watch the Cooly show. And I was very far from being alone in that desire…

But while Hero never matched Cooly’s pure athletic ability, he pushed the envelope - at times almost out of the London Olympic Stadium - when it came to engaging with the crowd, and the athletes, and…the officials.

Mekhissi-Benabbad was also present at the London World Championships, missing a medal in the 3,000m steeplechase by one place. Thankfully, as I recall, there was no interaction with Hero from a man who had "form" with regard to event mascots.

After winning the steeplechase at the 2012 European Athletics Championships the mercurial Frenchman had walked over to the event mascot "Appy", who was in actuality a 14-year-old girl, smacked a gift bag out of her hands and pushed her with both hands.

Two years earlier, having won the same event at the European Championships in Barcelona, Mekhissi-Benabbad had bizarrely bidden the event mascot to kneel in front of him before pushing them to the ground.

Perhaps it was his idea of fun. We can only be thankful he didn’t try it on with Hero, otherwise there would probably have been blood on the tracks…

Hero’s daily arrival on the infield at the invitation of the stadium’s roving MC, the former European and Commonwealth 400m champion Iwan Thomas, carried the threat of unpredictable violence, bringing to mind the crazed assaults visited upon Inspector Clouseau by his Chinese manservant Cato.

The ever-sporting Thomas knew it was going to happen. Hero knew it was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen. He knew we knew it was going to happen. We knew he knew we knew it was going to happen…

Hero the Hedgehog played a starring role at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London ©Getty Images
Hero the Hedgehog played a starring role at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London ©Getty Images

Hero liked to do eye-watering splits on the solid wooden barrier at the 3,000m steeplechase water jump. His physical slapstick style was reminiscent at times of the late, great Norman Wisdom. Albania must have loved him.

Whether he was water-sliding on a giant pink donut or executing extravagant forward somersaults down the arena’s concrete steps, eliciting nervous advice from the commentary box that such efforts should on no account be tried at home, Hero was a must-watch.

Hero also had a childlike playfulness which manifested itself by launching plastic ducks on the surface of the water jump or setting to work with a bucket and spade in the sand of the long jump landing pit, accompanied by a little helper from the stands.

There was wit too, as evidenced by strange messages brandished and displayed as runners circled around him. Examples: "Always give 100 per cent except when giving blood."

Or during the men’s 10,000 metres: "Only a TON of laps to go."

I can’t find the evidence, but I swear he was alongside the high jump pit at one stage with a board saying: "You’re supposed to jump OVER it."

When he crashed the home 4x100m gold medal party, slamming himself into the centre of the victorious British men’s team as they knelt in front of the digital scoreboard, his conduct slipped into the category marked: Questionable. But he was never dull.

To mark the final evening of the Championships, Hero flew in on a zipline from the roof of the stadium and was then presented with a well-earned medal for "Best ever mascot".

It will be a hard act for Perry to follow, but we wish him all the best.