By Richa Naidu and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
TOKYO, Aug.5 (Reuters) – German gymnast Kim Bui wore a unitard during the women’s all-around final. Her teammate Elisabeth Seitz chose not to do so.
“I was standing right in front of my closet and there was a unitard and there was a traditional one,” said Bui, 32. “I just decided on the unitard because today I thought I felt more comfortable with a unitard.”
Bui and Seitz are licensed by the International Gymnastics Federation to wear whatever they want when competing, but not all female athletes enjoy this luxury. Some – like Norwegian beach handball players who last month refused to wear skimpy bikinis – face punishment from their sport’s governing bodies.
Women have fought long and hard for the right to choose what to wear when competing in the Olympics, and in the Tokyo Games, more and more athletes and fans are speaking out and taking action.
Clothing brands are no different as they seek to tap into the global women’s sportswear market which is expected to grow to $ 217 billion by 2025, according to data firm Allied Market Research.
“In the past, we have changed the rules,” Tania Flynn, creative director of women’s clothing at Nike, told Reuters, declining to provide details. “Whether it’s a certain color change or a certain design and so on.”
“These Olympics, women are really taking center stage,” said Flynn. “It’s not necessarily a new conversation, but one that’s really on the mind.”
To make room for the powerful quadriceps of footballers who need to strike with a full range of motion, for example, Nike cuts the front of their shorts higher. But because some athletes want “a little more back coverage for more modesty,” the backs of their shorts are longer.
‘A LIL RAZZLE DAZZLE’
In addition to aesthetics and modesty, comfort is a major factor.
Silver medalist in the women’s shot put, Raven Saunders wore a tank top and briefs to beat the heat in the final, which took place on one of the hottest days of the Games so far.
Hours before the start of the event, she wrote on Twitter: “They say it’s hot in Tokyo, so Imma is wearing those sprinter pants this time around. Add a little dazzling sparkle.”
American runner Athing Mu, who won a gold medal in the women’s 800-meter Olympic final, wore Nike Aeroswift briefs and a crop top in her first preliminary run. In the semifinals, on a warmer day, she combined the same briefs with a more fitted crop top that had a zipper for added ventilation. For the finale, she chose a spectacular bright pink unitard.
Adidas, which equips the British, German, Hungarian and Ethiopian teams, makes a variety of outfits, including crop-tops and “rule-proof” tights. It manufactures women’s competitive clothing for beach volleyball, rock climbing, tennis and other sports.
“We want to make an inclusive offer that includes all body types and all tastes,” Adidas told Reuters. “We invite the voices of our athletes, working closely with diverse groups of women around the world.”
Of course, like Seitz in the German gymnastics team, not all women want to cover up.
“I think it was good that they dared to wear it because, I don’t know if you saw, but I was wearing a thong on the floor,” French gymnast Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos said after the final by female team.
“Sometimes for a girl it’s complicated.” (Reporting by Richa Naidu and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Editing by Leela de Kretser and Hugh Lawson)
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