BEIJING (AP) – A cartoon panda and Tibetan antelope are the newest Olympic players.

They were among five mascots unveiled Friday for the 2008 Summer Games, opening a marketing blitz expected to reap record profits. Joining the antelope and panda were cartoon depictions of a fish, swallow and the Olympic flame, each a color of one of the Olympic rings.

The announcement, culminating years of fierce lobbying and months of secrecy, was made at a nationally televised gala at a Beijing sports arena, marking the 1,000-day countdown to the event.

“The five friendlies are an incredible little family carefully chosen by Beijing 2008 to represent all of China to carry a message of friendship to the children of the world,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said in a statement read at the ceremony.

There are more mascots for this Olympics than for any in more than 30 years. The 2000 Summer Games in Sydney and 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City had three each.

The animals were introduced as Bei Bei (fish), Jing Jing (panda), Huan Huan (Olympic flame), Ying Ying (antelope) and Ni Ni (swallow). Put together that translates to “Beijing welcomes you!”

“China is so lucky to have so many beautiful animals to represent the Olympic spirit,” Rogge said.

A number of real and mythic creatures were among the candidates considered by Chinese leaders, Olympic officials and design specialists during the past year. Among those failing to make the cut were the dragon and a mischievous magical monkey from Chinese folklore.

The choice, the subject of lively media speculation for months, has been a secret since it was completed three months ago, sealed by confidentiality agreements and the habitual secrecy of the government.

At stake for China is one of the most marketable symbols in the Olympics. The mascots stand to generate significant revenue and public support for the Beijing Games, which will cost about $38 billion.

Sales of licensed products, including those with the mascot, have brought in about $300 million at the Sydney and Athens Olympics. Host cities keep 10 percent to 15 percent of the royalties, helping to defray Olympic costs.

The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games expects sales of such products to be higher still.

On Saturday, postage stamps and more than 300 other licensed products of the mascot go on sale at 188 authorized venues across the country, widening a product line of T-shirts, caps, pens and bags bearing the 2008 Games logo, according to Olympic officials.

To capture an entire range of consumers, the mascot products will range from fluorescent pens for $1 to souvenirs made from precious metals selling for thousands of dollars.

China has tried to use the mascot-selection process to involve communities far from Beijing. On hand for the unveiling at the Workers Gymnasium were 100 children “ambassadors” from western provinces.

Organizers threw open the selection process, inviting suggestions from the public and local governments, and many governments lobbied intensely. There were 662 suggestions in all for the mascots, with the list pared during the year.

To capitalize on the mascots’ publicity, Beijing is launching an extensive marketing campaign. An animated film by Han Meilin, who headed the design team, was screened at Friday night’s unveiling and is expected to be replayed on Chinese television in coming days.

“This time the mascot design fully combines traditional Chinese culture,” Han told the Chinese Web site Sina.com.

AP-ES-11-11-05 1216EST


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