2014 Winter Olympics

Sochi Olympics Fashion Ranges from Wacky Uniforms to Wardrobe Malfunction

AP Images
Tom WeirFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

The Winter Olympics are the height of athletic achievement in the snow and on the ice. But sometimes the athletes' wardrobes eclipse the buzz over who won the gold. So much work goes into the apparel the athletes wear that there really ought to be gold medals awarded to the top tailors and seamstresses. 

The demand for aerodynamics can lead to skin-tight competition suits that get imaginations working overtime.

Sequined skating costumes can draw oohs and ahhs, and also outright laughter. And sometimes the garish color schemes make you wonder whether someone actually was paid to design an outfit that shocks the senses.

Other times, the design is too futuristic or too "fashionable," leading to uniforms that might actually be slowing athletes down or otherwise harming their performances.

The Opening Ceremonies launched the 16-day fashion party last week, and if anyone was sleepy-eyed when the Parade of Nations began, it didn't take the German delegation long to wake them up.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 07:  Skier Maria Hoefl-Riesch of the Germany Olympic team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Paul Gilh
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The U.S. took some flak for wearing "Christmas sweaters," even though they were designed by Ralph Lauren. 

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 07:  The United States Olympic team enters the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

But the figure skating venue is where Olympic fashion always has its breakout performance, especially in the pairs competition.

Let's begin with the Italian team of Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek. Can someone please call Ondrej a cab, because that's pretty much what he looked like with his yellow pants and checkerboard suspenders.

Feb 6, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek (ITA) wave to the crowd after performing in the figure skating team pairs short program during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Germany's Aliona Savchenko played the role of the Pink Panther when she earned a bronze in pairs with partner Robin Szolkowy

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

But does Savchenko earn the award for pinkest performance, or should it go to NBC commentator and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir?

At the age of 55, Mexican Alpine skier Hubertus von Hohenlohe didn't have much hope of doing anything memorable on the slopes. Then he came up with the idea of racing in a Mariachi-themed suit. (What, no sombrero?)

Uncredited/Associated Press

CNN's Piers Morgan notes that multiple media outlets are calling von Hohenlohe the "Most Interesting Athlete" in the Olympics, and we wouldn't argue that. 

Goalie masks at hockey usually get a lot of Olympic attention, but in Sochi it has been the skeleton racers' headgear that have stolen the show.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 08:  Katie Uhlaender of the United States shows a bald eagle design on her helmet as she prepares to make a run during a Women's Skeleton training session on Day 1 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on F
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Above, America's Katie Uhlaender gets the nod for most patriotic helmet.

If it's possible to make a fashion statement with contact lenses, biathlon competitor Grete Gaim of Estonia definitely did so, and a close-up can be seen via Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo Sports. 

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Curling competitors often get overlooked at the Olympics, but the entrants from Norway made sure their pants got them noticed.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 12: Haavard Vad Petersson, Christoffer Svae and Torger Nergaard of Norway compete in the Curling Men's Round Robin match between Norway and Germany during day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Ice Cube Curling Center on Fe
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Russian speedskater Olga Graf's bronze medal in the 3,000 meters was a surprise, but not as big as the one she gave spectators when she unzipped her race uniform after crossing the finish line andoops!forgot she wasn't wearing anything underneath.

Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

That's one way to break up the boredom that sometimes accompanies her distance race. (Japan also had a speedskater who probably didn't realize her racing suit was stretched so tight that it put her thong on display.)

But sometimes pushing the edge on fashion can cause setbacks for athletes.

That might be the case for the U.S. long-track speedskating team, which traditionally sends plenty of athletes to the awards podium but has yet to medal in the first six races at Sochi. In fact, no US speedskater has finished better than seventh yet. 

The Wall Street Journal's Joshua Robinson and Sara Germano cite three sources saying the team's Under Armour body suits have a flaw that may be responsible.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 10:  Shani Davis of the United States reacts after competing during the Men's 500 m Race 2 of 2 Speed Skating event during day 3 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Adler Arena Skating Center on February 10, 2014 in Sochi, Russia
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Those sources explained that vents on back of the suit, meant to allow body heat to escape, instead slows the Americans by letting air in that creates drag and prevents the skaters from getting in a low aerodynamic position.

One skater said athletes were fighting the suit while trying to maintain correct form, and two-time Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis added, "I would like to think that it's not the suit. I would never blame the suit. I'd much rather blame myself. I just wasn't able to do it today, but other people were."

But it appears enough skaters are fed up with the gear, as WSJ's Sara Germano reported Friday that US speedskating has requested to switch suits to those used during the World Cup. ESPN's Darren Rovell reports the IOC has approved the switch. 

The Under Armour suits certainly put the U.S. skaters in a tight spot. No one wants to look like a sore loser and alibi that a poor performance is due to bad equipment. Nor do speedskaters, who sometimes have funding difficulties, want to insult a sponsor.

Meantime, some slopestyle skiers have had a very different problem with their pants.

Joss Christensen led an American sweep of the medals on Thursday despite nearly losing his pants during a qualifying run.

But it was Sweden's Henrik Harlaut who had the biggest problem.

Harlaut's pants fell down on multiple occasions during the finals Thursday, which bared the sixth-place finisher's colorful stretch pants underneath.

Gero Breloer/Associated Press

Slopestyle skiing also witnessed another oddity, as American Bobby Brown finished ninth while making his final run in a short-sleeve T-shirt. Temperatures on the slopes at Extreme Park were reported at 16 degrees Celsius.

And if the Sochi heatwave continues in this Black Sea resort area, do you suppose we'll see some Olympians indulge in European ways and go topless at the beach?

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Tom Weir has covered eight Winter Olympics as a columnist and reporter for USA Today. You can follow him on Twitter at @TomWeirSports.

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