What U.S. athletes will wear is a matter of design

The Olympic torch will glow in a white-out at the '94 Winter Games tomorrow. Not content with record-breaking snowfall and drifts, the planners in Lillehammer, Norway, will pass out 47,000 white ponchos to spectators at the opening ceremonies. The idea is to blend the crowd into a white snowscape so the eyes and cameras of the world focus on the athletes.

Camera crews and team officials, who need more movement, will be outfitted by the Norwegian military in 2,000 rented camouflage pants and jackets. In the lands of the Northern Lights, camouflage means all white. Lovely.


Physical performance may be the essence of the Olympics, but clothes are what people remember. In a year when athletic training suits, zip-up warm-ups and racing stripes are the hottest spring looks from designers such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, the stretchy second-skin unitards of Olympic competitors could be tearing up high fashion runways instead of ski, bobsled and luge runs. But then the young and fit look good in everything, except, of course, some of the goofy parade hats and mufflers they've had to endure over the years.

This year U.S. teams will be wearing a wardrobe provided by Champion and other divisions and contractors to the Sara Lee Corporation, which is the conglomerate that is footing the bill. We're talking a lot of cupcakes to fill the official sundry bag, large duffel bag, garment bag, backpack and fanny pack with more than 50 items of custom-designed casual and formal wear -- everything from parade coats, parkas, dress jackets, ties, award uniforms, scarves, gloves, hats and boots to extra snuggy socks and underwear.


Designer Nancy Radtke, who was part of the team that put this workable wardrobe together, says outfitting Olympians is a real challenge.

"We made a list of apparel that could be required for a 3- or 4-week stay away from home. We also had to consider and rate thermal quality as well as design," she says. Anyone who has ever packed for a vacation can understand the logistics of wardrobe planning.

The sensibilities of the athletes had to be considered, too. "We wanted them to look like a team, but not so loud and conspicuous they wouldn't be proud to wear them," says Ms. Radtke who has gone on from Olympic wardrobing to women's wear designer for Ruff Hewn.

The colors that were chosen for the team social and casual wear are a combination of navy, silvery gray and burgundy red --

classic American red, white an blue with a twist. The athletes we've seen arriving at Lillehammer are looking fine, sporting western Stetson hats and smiling for the cameras.

On camera, CBS broadcasters will be wardrobed by Nordstrom; the men in Faconnable, the women in Classiques, the Nordstrom private label. We'll be seeing a lot of these folks in the weeks

ahead and it will be refreshing to see some changes.

Rich Valenza, the wardrobe consultant who's dressing the CBS hosts, said he looked at the designer market and it was bleak. "We saw an awful lot of black out there. As we moved through the Nordstrom in Seattle we saw color, and that's why we went with a retail lines rather than a designer names."


It will be traditional and understated dressing for CBS, and hopefully better fashion than those unfortunate sparkly, fuzzy sweaters poor Peggy Fleming had to suffer two Olympics ago.

The one arena where sparkle is welcome will be among the figure skaters. Nancy Kerrigan, America's ice princess, will be in designer diamantes by Vera Wang. The new confection she is to wear for her long program will be a nude illusion net halter dress completely covered with Austrian crystals. Vera Wang, a former skater herself, understands the pulls and stresses a dress takes in competition and has the know-how to build a dress that looks fragile but wears tough. Ms. Kerrigan is lucky in her designer.

Tonya Harding, if she skates, will probably be outfitted in home-made, which could be yet another hurdle in a sport where style counts.

The skating rink promises more glitz and glamour than ever before with so many professionals returning to compete. Katarina Witt, Brian Boitano and dancers Jayne Torville and Christopher Dean have gained experience on the pro circuit and they know how a float of sleeve or trail of chiffon can help the scores.

So what's the fashion in the town of Lillehammer? "Warm," says Arvid Aspero, information manager for opening and closing ceremonies. Mr. Aspero is long on charm but shy on fashion chat. "It is minus 15 degrees, and the uniform coat of Olympics personnel is very warm. Then you have boots, also very warm," he says. Norwegians have their welcoming and fashion priorities in order -- warm first, style second.