Nike, Team USA athletes defend controversial Olympic track & field outfits

(Courtesy Nike)

(Courtesy Nike)

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Nike got scorched by the first social media brush fire of the 2024 Paris Olympics, and Olympians past and present are coming to the apparel giant’s defense.

Nike introduced its Olympic uniforms for Team USA and other nations on Thursday at a Paris event. A single image of one of Nike’s American track & field uniforms, modeled on a mannequin, set off a wave of online criticism that the company and its athletes are now working to contain. The image, shown as part of the uniform reveal, showed a female bodysuit with a high-cut hip that critics derided as sexist.

“Wait my hoo hah is going to be out,” 2020 Olympic long jumper and 2024 hopeful Tara Davis-Woodhall commented under an Instagram pic of the mannequin.

“I was a little bit shocked and surprised to see the uniforms,” four-time gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday at a Team USA media summit. “I think the overall designs are beautiful, but ultimately I feel like the athletes should be super comfortable so they can go on the track and give their best.”

Lost in the immediate furor of criticism was the fact that the high-cut bodysuit is only one of multiple options. Nike — and many of its athletes who hope to wear the uniform this summer in Paris — stressed that the high-cut bodysuit is one of multiple options available, including compression shorts and full-length bodysuits.

“It was a picture that [didn’t do] it justice,” Davis-Woodhall said on Tuesday. “I saw [the uniforms] today. They’re beautiful, not like the picture.”

Nike officials also noted that athletes are consulted throughout the entire creation of the uniforms. “Working directly with athletes throughout every stage of the design process,” John Hoke, Nike Chief Innovation Officer, said in a statement. “Nike designed garments to ensure fit across a range of body types and style preferences and infused real-time feedback throughout the entire product-development cycle.”

“At World Championships I remember they had an area where athletes could try stuff on and give their feedback, so athletes were definitely consulted,” Gabby Thomas, who won a silver and bronze medal in sprint events at the Tokyo Summer Games, told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “That’s why I think everyone was a little shocked when they saw the photo, because athletes wouldn’t have signed off on how that looked, but it doesn’t look like that in person.”

Thomas noted that regardless of the condemnation that social media users may hurl, there are Olympic athletes who simply prefer the tighter cut. “I love competing in the briefs, I love wearing as little clothes as possible just because you’re sweaty, being really active and moving,” she said. “But we also have the option to wear any uniform we want. We could wear the men’s uniform if we wanted.”

The Nike uniform is the latest in a line of controversies about women’s Olympic uniforms, ranging from small bikinis on beach volleyball teams to white shorts for soccer players. By giving a range of options, as well as consulting the athletes who will be sporting the uniforms, Nike hopes to address the fundamental paradox of creating something uniform for so many people who are so very distinct.

“All women’s bodies are different,” Davis-Woodward said, “and I’d say the same thing for men. Let’s make the uniforms for the people, instead of for the views.”

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