The athletes have arrived in Rio. The nations have paraded. The flame has been lit. The Olympics are officially upon us. In the weeks ahead, no doubt we’ll witness amazing athletic prowess, hear about great speeds and sportsmanship, and tally the medals. I’ll admit I love the Olympics. They are proof that people from the most diverse bits of the globe can gather together peacefully, and not only get along, but learn from each other and have fun. Another reason has to do with the clothes. I mean, who doesn’t pay attention to the official uniforms, the leotards, the swimsuits, the ski sweaters?
It’s heartening to look at murky old photos of Olympic athletes—the sagging gymnastic costumes that make you wonder how the athletes performed without tripping over the extra fabric; young women playing tennis in long skirts; runners in loose-fitting shorts and thin, hard shoes that make your feet hurt just looking at them.
But sportswear has evolved—the styles, the practicality, and the fabric. Cotton and other natural fibers have given way to polyester and polyurethane. Sportswear companies are ahead of the game in sustainability, and it’s common now for Olympic gear to be manufactured from recycled PET bottles.
Gold Medal Performance
But that’s not all. Many scientists and statisticians predict that the most improvements to be made in future athletic performance will be dependent on the fabric the athletes wear. Oh, the power of cloth!
The 2008 Beijing Olympics saw the debut of the “Super Suit,” a swimsuit made partly of polyurethane. Apparently, these suits increased a swimmer’s buoyancy in the pool and also could enhance the shape of a swimmer’s body. Swimmers broke 22 world records that year. The super suits are now banned.
Nike Basketball uniforms and tracksuits at the 2012 London Olympics were made of about 80% recycled polyester and PET bottles. The fabric design reduced drag and actually helped to take a second or two off of a runner’s overall time.
The Under Armour folks tested more than 100 textiles trying to create the perfect wear for speed skaters. They’re still working on that (success in the 2014 Olympics was questioned!), but what they came up with was a pretty cool suit, literally. It used five different fabrics, had an air vent on the spine to release body heat, and the slick fabric on the inside of the suit reduced friction when the skater crossed his legs.
I love that the stealth gold medal performer in the Olympics happens to be textiles. I wonder what we’ll see in Rio?
Enjoy the games!