TOKYO – The team’s outfits looked identical to those of others in the room as arena lights crossed his chest and shone with crystals down his red and white sleeves.
But the German gymnastics team’s new Olympic suit didn’t stop at his hips.
For decades, female gymnasts have worn bikini-cut leotards. In qualifying on Sunday, however, the German team wore unitards extending to their ankles, intending to back down against the sexualization of women in gymnastics.
The Tokyo Olympics is the first Summer Games since Larry Nassar, a former United States Gymnastics national team doctor, was jailed for 176 years for sexually abusing hundreds of gymnasts, including some of the sport’s greatest stars. Upon their sentencing, the athletes – some of them Olympians – described how the culture of the sport allowed the abuse and objectification of young women and girls.
Male gymnasts wear comparatively body-covering clothing: singles, with loose shorts for their floor exercises and vaulting, and long pants on bar and pommel horse routines.
The German team first wore the unitard at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in April.
German Sarah Voss, 21, said she wasn’t sure she would decide to wear them again during Olympic competition until they got together before meeting.
“We sat together today and said, ‘Okay, we want a big competition,'” Voss said. “We want to feel amazing, we want to show everyone that we look amazing.”
Despite being widely championed, her wardrobe revolution hasn’t started a trend until now. Leotards, leaving the feet bare, were worn by every other female gymnast during qualifying at the Tokyo Games.
At 4 foot-8, American superstar Simone Biles said in June that she prefers leotards because they lengthen the leg and make her appear taller.
“But I stand by their decision to wear whatever they want and whatever makes them feel comfortable,” Biles said. “So if anyone wants to wear a unitard or leotard outside, it’s entirely up to you.”
Matt Cowan, chief commercial officer at GK Elite, America’s leading leotard maker, said most requests for unitards now come from countries that require delicacy for cultural and religious reasons. He hasn’t seen any flurry towards catsuits otherwise.
“Will we do it? Absolutely. We have the ability to design and do it, and we’ve done it,” Cowan said. “But from a consumer demand perspective, we’re not there yet.”
Gymnastics is often seen as a sport performed by very young women and girls. At 24, Biles often jokes about being old; She recently called herself Dadi on social media.
But other nations have defied the emphasis on youth, including the Germans: Elizabeth Seitz is 27, Kim Bui is 32, Pauline Schaefer is 24, and Voss is 21. Their average age is 26 years. Voss said that gymnastics customs should leave room for women. bodies as they age and change.
Their outfits follow the wardrobe rules of the International Gymnastics Federation. But this does not mean that female athletes are generally free to cover their bodies as they choose.
Just days before the start of the Games, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team refused to play in bikini bottoms during the European tournament, opting instead for skin-tight shorts. For that, he received a fine for violating the wardrobe requirement.
But at qualifying gymnastics on Sunday, the announcer over a loudspeaker called the outfits “really cool.” The German team did not qualify for the final, but the announcer wondered whether their team could debut on the Olympic stage, adding to the popularity of Unitard.