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Outrage sparked by Nike’s skimpy Olympic uniforms

"If this outfit was truly beneficial to physical performance, men would wear it," said retired U.S. distance runner Lauren Fleshman

Sha'Carri Richardson Budapest Photo by: Kevin Morris

Women athletes have spoken out after images of the U.S. Olympic uniforms, with the Nike-designed attire displayed on a mannequin, were released on Thursday. The women’s outfit is being criticized for its notably high-cut panty line and Reuters reported that athletes say the emphasis seems to be on appearance rather than functionality.

“They are absolutely not made for performance,” U.S. steeplechaser Colleen Quigley told Reuters. Retired U.S. distance runner Lauren Fleshmen, an advocate for women in sports, also slammed the outfits, writing on Instagram: “Women’s kits should be in service to performance, mentally and physically. If this outfit was truly beneficial to physical performance, men would wear it.” She added: “This is not an elite athletic kit for track and field. This is a costume born of patriarchal forces that are no longer welcome or needed to get eyes on women’s sports.”

Runners questioned whether women were involved in the design of the outfits. In a statement by Nike, executive John Hoke said the company worked “directly with athletes throughout every stage of the design process,” with USATF seconded that, saying “athlete options and choices were the driving force for USATF in the planning process with Nike.” Vice president of apparel innovation at Nike, Janett Nichol, told CBS Sports that the uniforms “perform at the highest level” and insisted athletes were involved in the testing process.

In response to criticisms, Nike announced plans to offer Olympic athletes custom tailoring services. Quigley emphasized the importance of properly fitting uniforms, stating, “Our bodies are all different, and it seems silly to expect us to compete at the highest level of our sport without a properly fit uniform.” Nike confirmed to Reuters that tailors would be available for Olympic and Paralympic athletes in Paris.

For the Paris 2024 Olympics, Nike will provide athletes with unitard options featuring both briefs and shorts, whereas only briefs were offered at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Olympic kits were showcased in a launch event in Paris, with U.S. middle-distance runner Athing Mu sporting briefs and U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson donning a version of the unitard with shorts.

While it’s questionable why the outfit that Nike chose to reveal first was the unitard, they are emphasizing the diversity of options available to the athletes. U.S. Olympic pole vaulter Katie Moon spoke out on social media, explaining that while she felt what was shown on the mannequin was concerning, “we have at least 20 different combinations of a uniform to compete in with all the tops and bottoms available to us.”

The debate surrounding the attire of female Olympians continues, with recent changes in regulations regarding competition wear. Gymnastics New Zealand recently updated its attire rules to allow women and girls to wear shorts or leggings over their leotards. Similarly, during the Tokyo Olympics, the women’s gymnastics team from Germany made a statement against the sexualization of the sport by wearing full-length bodysuits.

Fleshman expressed concern that the revealing uniforms distract athletes from focusing on performance. She highlighted the discomfort and self-consciousness caused by such attire, particularly on a global stage, where athletes should be free to push their limits without unnecessary distractions.

“Professional athletes should be able to compete without dedicating brain space to constant pube vigilance or the mental gymnastics of having every vulnerable piece of your body on display,” she wrote on Instagram. “It feels like what the athlete wants and what the athlete needs was not the No. 1  priority,” adds Quigley.

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