After nine years of slippery, slinky competition, the Ferret Olympics is being forced to change its name — the U.S. Olympic Committee has threatened to sue.
An estimated 75 ferrets will vie for medals at the Ferret Agility Trials on Sunday in events including the tube run and the paper bag escape. Only “they are not Olympians anymore,” organizer Melanee Ellis said with a laugh.
Ellis started the Ferret Olympics in 1996, the year of the Atlanta games, as a fundraiser for a local ferret shelter.
The Ferret Olympics didn’t attract much attention until the local newspaper reported on it in 2004, Ellis said.
Within two weeks of the story, she received phone calls from the BBC in London, “Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Ellen Degeneres Show” and, eventually, the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Ellis, 44, said she could hardly believe the woman on the phone was serious about the threat of a lawsuit for unauthorized use of a trademark.
“I was very, very disappointed and upset about the whole thing,” she said.
U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said the committee’s legal department on average asks about 50 groups per year to stop using the name Olympics.
“No one is being singled out,” Seibel said. “But the accumulated effect of letting that go unchecked would hinder the ability we have to do what we do.”
In July, a Minnesota rock band changed its name from the Olympic Hopefuls to the Hopefuls but was allowed to keep its signature track suits. The ImprovOlympic, a comedy club in Chicago, also opted to change its name, to I.O., rather than fight a threatened trademark infringement lawsuit.
As for Ellis and her ferrets, she wishes they had another chance at Olympic gold.
“I’m sure Spaz is the most upset,” Ellis said about the top athlete in her ferret lineup. “He never did win a medal at the Olympics. He thought this would be his year.”