WHEN the mascot for the 1996 Olympics was unveiled at the closing ceremonies of the '92 Barcelona Games, many who witnessed the debut found themselves asking, "What is it?"
And that, apparently, is exactly what Atlanta's Olympic organizers anticipated might be the reaction, since they named the character "Whatizit."
The mascot represents a startling departure from the Olympic norm of lovable animals. Whatizit is neither animal nor human, but a modernistic, cartoonish creation that serves as the official ambassador and central marketing design of the centennial games. To skeptics, the mascot may look like a mistake, and a slightly tacky one at that, with its oversize eyeballs and mouth, thunderbolt eyebrows, and tail encircled by Olympic rings.
But what Atlanta's Olympic organizing committee has found, says spokeswoman Laurie Olsen, is that "there is a dichotomy between the response the mascot receives from children and adults." Basically, youngsters like Whatizit, she says, but adults are less enthusiastic.
The committee has been sensitive to the children's reaction in nationwide focus groups and has made some changes - providing a more athletic body and a more expressive face, among other alterations. The mascot is even slated to be renamed some time this fall, after a Kids Advisory Council, made up of 20 Atlanta-area children, reviews thousands of write-in suggestions from around the world at the invitation of the organizing committee.
r The priciest sports ticket for next February's Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, will be $160 for figure skating. The competition, always one of the special attractions, promises to be especially interesting as the first to include professionals. Among the pros eligible to re-enter the Olympics are former champions Brian Boitano and Katarina Witt. Californian Kristi Yamaguchi has decided not to defend her '92 women's title, nor will she be a TV analyst. She has indicated, however, that she may re turn to the Olympics in 1998 at Nagano, Japan. But instead of skating solo, she would enter the pairs competition. Before concentrating exclusively on singles skating, she and Rudy Galindo won US pairs titles in 1989 and '90.
r Despite losing money on its telecasts of the last two summer Olympics, NBC obviously remains confident that it can turn a profit. Otherwise, the network wouldn't have outbid ABC and CBS this week in order to secure the broadcast rights to the 1996 Atlanta Games. NBC will pay $456 million, or $55 million more than it did to televise the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The network expects huge American audiences, since live prime-time telecasts will be possible, which wasn't the case from Spain and Korea at the
last two Olympics.