Competitive spirit extends to fashion flourishes


Personal best. Personal style. We've seen some fashion statements emerge from the sea of red, white and blue American Olympic team uniforms. Despite the uniformity and dress restrictions of the Olympic committees and the sports governing bodies, the drive to look outstanding is there in Barcelona.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the finest woman athlete of these games, after a grueling round of heptathlon events donned her Reebok stars and bars awards uniform, swept up her hair and put on her pearls to receive her gold medal. Pearls and gold -- always tasteful and suitable for any occasion. Coco Chanel would be proud. Ms. Joyner-Kersee may have an Olympic first in the fashion field. Yes!

Nelson Diebel competed for his gold in the 100-meter breast stroke shaved down to no hair and the briefest Speedo swimsuit the games allow. He tied a -- of star-spangled bandanna around his bald dome for the medal ceremony. Heavy metal rocker Axl Rose wraps one, and bandannas have been a strong fashion element of the bad-boy street look. This time the look was proud and joyous. Yes!

Anita Nall, who has already appeared in a fashionably correct Gap ad, sported a fun fashion tattoo on her shoulder when she swam for her three medals -- a gold, silver and bronze. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Those are the individual spins. The privilege of dressing Olympic athletes is a monumental business with billions spent on sponsorship and supply contracts and millions to be gained from the promotion.

The longest-running and hottest competition has been in footwear with Nike and Reebok paying court to Dream Team stars. Both companies are built on athletic shoes, but this time the fuss hangs on clothes. The final playoff will be Saturday night's men's basketball awards ceremony. Reebok designed the stars-and-bars awards warm-up suit which American athletes are obliged to wear. Nike dresses the track and field teams. Leave it to superstar Michael Jordan to act like a nervy supermodel. He's under contract to Nike and has said he will not sport the Reebok logo. The U.S. Olympic Committee, in a compromise ruling, has said that "players may wear the uniform in a manner that does not reveal any commercial identification. However, in no instance will the uniform be defaced or covered by any other material." How will Mike wear it? Backward, a la Kriss Kross? Gently draped and folded over the shoulder logo? There hasn't been so much fuss about an outfit since the world waited for Lady Di to make an appearance in her wedding dress.

But there is much design time and work involved in outfitting athletes. When function and fashion mesh, the looks are breathtaking, but if it comes to choosing between the way clothes move and how they look, function wins out every time.

TV viewers thought America's women gymnasts looked a little washed out in their white bodysuits with gold overprints. As prettily as Shannon Miller moved, some viewers were hoping for a bit more fashion flash. Sallie Weaver, president of Elite Sportswear Ltd., which supplied the men's and women's gymnastics teams, was not happy with the choice, either. "The U.S. Gymnastics Federation wanted white even though it does not show to best advantage on the camera. The decision was made to please the judges rather than the TV. The mats in the Olympic stadium are blue and that precluded using blue, which would blend, or red, which would clash. The whole point was to appear in the best possible light to the judges."

Clothes on the track and field, which were made by Nike, go all out for color and flash in red, white and blue. Herb Lindsay, merchandising spokesman for Nike, says every seam, star and stripe was carefully planned. Nike fitters met with each athlete and dressed them in a plain white unitard. Then each team member's requirements were sketched out for fit and pull with an indelible marker to create a custom pattern.

The fit looks wonderful on the fittest people in the world. Nothing like spandex to show a great body. The men in stretch unitard are noteworthy. But the women in the new two-piece brief and halter-like top look exceptional. We've seen some variations of the bare midriff style on MTV. We'll be seeing a lot of it in the gym.

Even on the track scene, athletes add their own touches. Personal gold chains may be a wishful amulet for Olympic gold, and many of the men wore them. TV even caught a glint of some gold bracelets. Many of the women showed a flair with hair and makeup.

Rochelle Stevens, a Morgan State University grad, was at the starting block with hair curled into wispy tendrils, perfect lipstick and designer nails. Looking good. She looked just as good after the hurdles.

Speedo made a debut with a new unitard S2000 techno trendy back zip suit. The women wore it well, but so did Hans Dersch. It took guts and confidence to don what looks like a woman's one-piece leotard.

Some swimmers shaved head and body to gain speed. The volleyball team shaved their heads in a show of unity for teammate Bob Samuelson. Bald is beautiful all of a sudden.

The nearly bald look is also coming on strong. Carol Linton, style team member for Supercuts, the sponsoring national chain of hair salons that put the athletes in trim for their trip to Barcelona, reports requests for a very short clipper cut with the Olympic rings sculpted in.

Flash is definitely a factor at the Olympics.

Bausch & Lomb provided all American athletes with sunglasses. Medalists are given limited edition glasses in gold, silver or bronze. Tom Ruff, spokesman for Bausch & Lomb, says the glasses contain more real gold than the Olympic medal.

Henry Grethel was signed to fashionize the formal opening ceremonies parade uniforms. Just imagine trying to make a wedding party look good. Multiply that problem by thousands. No one ever again wears those bridesmaids dresses. Too bad about the hats which were worn with spirit.

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