U.S. women’s track Olympian: Debated uniform option is no big deal

NEW YORK — Gabby Thomas, one of the world’s fastest female sprinters, says she prefers to run with as little clothing as possible. But last weekend, when she first saw a photo of one of Nike’s new U.S. women’s track and field uniforms for this summer’s Paris Olympics, she was stunned.

“I was like, ‘Whoa,'” Thomas said Tuesday at a press briefing for U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes ahead of the Paris Games.

But after studying the image for a while, Thomas relaxed.

“The initial shock was justified,” she said. “But I don’t think anyone needs to worry.”

On a day designed to allow many of America’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes to talk about the upcoming Games, much of the conversation instead revolved around Nike’s high-cut uniform, which was unveiled last week with dozens of other track uniforms at an event in Paris. The ongoing publication Citius posted on Instagram an image of the unit on a female mannequin as well as a one-piece male uniform with longer legs. This juxtaposition provoked an immediate reaction on social networks. It has also resurfaced the debate about how uniforms can contribute to the sexualization and objectification of female athletes.

Queen Harrison Claye, an Olympic hurdler, responded to the post by asking a hair removal center if they would like to sponsor the American team for Paris. Paralympic athlete Femita Ayanbeku wrote: “I’m someone’s mother, I can’t expose myself like this. »

Upon closer inspection, the athletes said, the shape of the model or the angle of the photo distorted how the uniforms actually fit the athletes.

“It’s the picture that doesn’t do it justice,” said long jumper Tara Davis-Woodhall. “I saw one today. They are beautiful. They are not like the photo. The cut is a little different on this model. They should have just taken a second look at someone to choose this photo to post.

Regardless of opinions on the uniform in question, athletes are not required to wear it. Men and women can choose from four uniform variations, including traditional and form-fitting compression shorts.

“We could wear the men’s uniform if we really wanted to,” Thomas said.

While the athletes spoke in the ballroom of a midtown Manhattan hotel, Jordana Katcher, Nike’s global vice president of sportswear, stood in a small conference room 40 floors above, next to two displays of uniform samples, including the unitard. She said the company designs all of its athletic uniforms with significant input from its sponsored athletes, bringing many to the company’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., to tell designers which styles they prefer.

Nike then spends months designing prototypes, sending them to its athletes to try before finally coming up with an Olympic line with several styles that reflect its athletes’ preferences and suit different body types and athletic disciplines . In addition to the unitard, female track athletes at this summer’s Olympics may wear shorts, longer one-piece uniforms or another option that resembles the men in the photo.

“We obviously design for a variety of body types,” Katcher said. “We design for men and women; we design for all abilities. So we want to be sure that the products we provide to these athletes meet their needs, allow them to move the way they want in their sport, but are also items that they feel comfortable in.

She said several female track and field athletes at Nike had called for unity.

Due to Nike’s sponsorship deal with USA Track & Field, all U.S. track athletes are required to wear some version of their uniform at the Olympics, regardless of individual sponsorship deals. Davis-Woodhall plans to choose the one-piece suit because it allows her full range of motion. Thomas loves crop tops and bikini briefs because they are liberating.

“I like to wear as little clothing as possible, just because you get sweaty and you’re really active and moving,” Thomas said. “So I like the fact that we have the option to wear that.”

Roman Stubbs contributed to this report.

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