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


NEW YORK — Gabby Thomas, one of the fastest women’s sprinters in the world, says she prefers to run in 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 Olympics, she was stunned.

“I was like, ‘Whoa,’” Thomas said Tuesday at a media gathering for U.S. and Paralympic athletes in advance of the Games.

But after studying the image for some time, Thomas relaxed.

“The initial shock was warranted,” she said. “But I think no one has anything to worry about.”

On a day designed for many of America’s and Paralympic athletes to talk about the upcoming Games, much of the conversation instead swirled around Nike’s high-cut unitard, which was unveiled last week with dozens of other track uniforms at an event in . publication Citius posted on Instagram an image of the unitard on a female mannequin along with a male one-piece uniform with longer legs. The juxtaposition prompted immediate social media backlash. It also resurfaced discussion about how uniforms can contribute to the sexualization and objectification of female athletes.

hurdler Queen Harrison Claye responded to the post by asking a hair-removal center if it wanted to sponsor Team USA for Paris. Paralympian Femita Ayanbeku wrote, “I’m someone’s Mom, I can’t be exposing myself like that.”

Upon further review, athletes said, the shape of the mannequin or the angle of the photo distorted how the uniforms actually fit on athletes.

“It was the picture that did no justice,” long jumper Tara Davis-Woodhall said. “I saw one today. They’re beautiful. They’re not like the picture. The cut does look a little bit different on that mannequin. They just should have had a second look with someone to choose that photo to post.”

Regardless of the opinions on the uniform in question, athletes don’t have to wear it. Both men and women can choose from four variations of uniforms, including both traditional and tightfitting compression shorts.

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

While the athletes talked in a ballroom of a midtown Manhattan hotel, Jordana Katcher, Nike’s vice president for global sports apparel, stood in a small conference suite 40 floors above beside two racks of uniform samples, including the unitard. She said the company designs all of its track uniforms with significant input from its sponsored athletes, bringing many to the company’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., to tell designers what styles they like best.

Nike then spends months designing prototypes, sending them to its athletes to try out before finally putting out an Olympic line with multiple styles that reflect the preferences of its athletes and suit different body types and track and field disciplines. In addition to the unitard, female track athletes at this summer’s Olympics can wear shorts, longer one-piece uniforms or another option that looks similar to the male one in the photo.

“We are obviously designing for a variety of body types,” Katcher said. “We’re designing for men and women; we’re designing for all abilities. And so we want to be sure that the products that we’re providing to these athletes serve their needs, allow them to move the way they need to move in their sport but also are items that they feel comfortable in.”

She said several of Nike’s female track and field athletes have requested the unitard.

Because of Nike’s sponsorship deal with USA , all American track athletes must wear some version of its uniform at the Olympics, regardless of individual sponsorship agreements. Davis-Woodhall plans to choose the one-piece suit because it allows her full range of motion. Thomas likes a crop and bikini briefs because of how freeing they are.

“I love wearing as little clothes as possible, just because you’re sweaty, you’re being really active and moving,” Thomas said. “So I love that we have the option to wear that.”

Roman Stubbs contributed to this report.





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