- 17 Jun 08, 12:03 PM
I realise Tom Daley is a bit of a nipper in Olympic terms, at the tender age of 14, but was there any need to give our diving star a cuddly toy for the trip to Beijing?
It turns out that young Tom's new pal is not just any old soft toy lion. No, this is the Team GB lion mascot - or, to give him his current proper title, Team GB Mascot Lion.
There now follows a competition on children's TV to name the beast, who I must say is quite a decent mascot lion specimen.
Lions have always been the obvious-but-safe mascot choice. Remember World Cup Willie, subject of a Lonnie Donegan tribute, back in 1966? Surely a candidate for Most Successful Lion Mascot, particularly compared with English cricket's four Pride Side lions, introduced for the 2001 Ashes. Result: Aussies romp home 4-1.
A quick trawl down the excellent but slightly-dated sports-mascots.co.uk reveals no fewer than six lions in football's Premier League as of 2006, plying their trade at Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Chelsea, Middlesbrough and Reading. Of those six, only Madejski Stadium resident Kingsley Royal has failed to preserve their team's top-flight status since.
Kingsley has, however, supplied me with my favourite mascot lion moment to date. I was writing BBC Berkshire's match report for Reading's 1-0 win over Newcastle last season when Kingsley found himself dismissed by Mike Riley, allegedly because the mascot's antics were confusing the official.
"I can see where the referee was getting confused," Reading manager Steve Coppell told the press after the game. "He does look like so many of my players."
The Team GB lion is getting the chance to perform alongside British athletes - we are told it will be on a flight out to Beijing and will turn up to offer support at 15 different venues. Let's hope it behaves, particularly if another country sends a tasty-looking gazelle, alone and separated from the herd poolside at the women's 4x100 individual medley.
Personally I prefer the lion over Beijing's Olympic mascots - maybe this is the lion bedding itself in gently, before making a grab for the title of London 2012 Official Mascot. (Some other suggestions here.)
After all, the lion would be a sight better than some of the monstrosities conjured up for Games past. Take a look at our selection in this gallery. My personal favourites are the first two - Waldi the purple, orange and beige sausage dog, and Amik the beaver, discernible from some kind of furry frying-pan cover only by a Canadian sash.
I, meanwhile, am in full support of Tom Daley's early entry for the lion-naming contest.
"My choice of name for the lion would be Oly - the British Olympic team mascot," says Tom. Excellent name, that!
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