‘Body on display’: U.S. Olympians debate skimpy women’s uniform

Split screen image of Anna Cockrell (L) and Sha'Carri Richardson (R) modelling new uniforms for American Olympians during a Nike launch show in Paris. Nike unveiled the new uniforms for Team USA's track and field Olympians to widespread backlash, prompting a debate on women's athletic apparel. Nike/Instagram

Nike unveiled its designs for the new Team USA track and field uniforms for the Paris Summer Olympics and some current and former athletes are not happy, to say the least.

Critics slammed the women’s kit as being sexist and needlessly revealing, while others defended it and pointed out that women athletes can choose from a number of different uniform options, which include shorts.

The main point of contention is with the women’s one-piece speed suit, a piece of track and field apparel that looks similar to a leotard. Images of the speed suit on a mannequin were posted to social media on Thursday, showing a very high-cut pantyline. Some athletes were concerned that the crotch area of the garment would not adequately cover their genitals.

“Wait my hoo haa is gonna be out,” joked Tara Davis-Woodhall, an American long jump Olympian and world champion, in response to an image of the uniform posted by Citius Magazine.

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U.S. steeplechaser Colleen Quigley said the women’s uniforms “are absolutely not made for performance,” in a message to Reuters.

The fiercest public critic of the women’s kit, however, has been Lauren Fleshman, a former U.S. national champion in distance running.

In an Instagram post, Fleshman called the uniform a “costume born of patriarchal forces that are no longer welcome or needed to get eyes on women’s sports.”

“I’m sorry, but show me one WNBA or NWSL team who would enthusiastically support this kit. This is for Olympic Track and Field. 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.

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“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,” Fleshman added.

In the comments of Fleshman’s post, Anna Cockrell, an Olympic hurdler who helped model the Team USA track and field kit during a Nike launch show in Paris, pushed back.

She said the speed suit actually has more coverage on a real person than how it appears on the mannequin.

“Having seen the bodysuit in person on a real person, I don’t think what’s on the mannequin is a fair representation,” she wrote.

Anna Cockrell modelled a crop top and “buns,” a brief-style bottom for running, during the Nike showcase.

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It’s unclear if Nike raised the pantyline of its buns and speed suit compared to the Tokyo Summer Olympics uniform it designed for U.S. Olympians. Nike did not respond to Global News’ question on the matter.

United States runners Emily Sisson, Karissa Schweizer and Alicia Monson along with Eilish McGolgan of Great Britain wearing buns as they race to the finish of the 10000m final for women during the Track and Field competition at the Olympic Stadium at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games on Aug. 7, 2021. Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Also in defence of the uniforms, Nike-sponsored pole vaulter Katie Moon wrote that the women’s speed suit is just one of many apparel options available to track and field Olympians.

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“I’ve … seen people making comments like, ‘Why can’t they just make the men’s uniform for the women?’ I absolutely love people defending women, but we have at least 20 different combinations of a uniform to compete in with all the tops and bottoms available to us. We DO have the men’s option available to us if we want it.”

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Moon, who won gold in pole vault at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, added that she prefers competing in the buns, not to “appease the men” but because she wants “as little fabric clinging to me when I’m hot and sweaty.”

She did concede however, that the speed suit, as shown on the mannequin during its unveiling, “was concerning, and warranted the response it received.”

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Debate has raged for years over more revealing outfits for women Olympians in disciplines from beach volleyball to gymnastics, and some rules on competition wear are changing.

Germany’s women’s gymnastics team wore full-length bodysuits at the Tokyo Olympics, in what they said was a stand against sexualization in the sport. Gymnastics New Zealand last week updated its attire rules to allow women and girls to wear shorts or leggings over their leotards.

Nike said in an email to Reuters that it was offering athletes unitard options with both a brief and a short for this Olympics, whereas it only offered the brief for the Tokyo Olympics. The company also said it would provide tailors for Olympic and Paralympic athletes this year.

Nike’s track and field kits for men and women include nearly 50 apparel pieces and 12 competition styles for specific events, the brand said when launching the outfits.

A spokesperson for USA Track & Field said: “Athlete options and choices were the driving force for USATF in the planning process with Nike.”

— With files from Reuters

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