After a seemingly endless buildup, the London Olympics are finally set to open on Friday. By now you've heard that the Americans' Skippy-and-Muffy uniforms for the opening ceremonies were made in China, you've heard about all the crazy branding controversies and you've heard about the torch bearer with the misspelled Olympic tattoo. But enough of that stuff -- the Games are about to begin. Here's some of what you can expect to see as they unfold:
1. Business up front, party in the back. Admit it, the Olympic uniforms you care about most are the ones worn by the American men's basketball team. As you can see from that last link, it's not a bad look -- until you see it from the side or the back. Yikes -- it's like the uniform version of a mullet. Or as a commenter on the Uni Watch Blog recently opined, "Remember growing up, making fun of other countries’ Olympic basketball uniforms? Apparently the new USA uniforms are payback." In any case, since the uniforms are made by Nike this year, players with Nike endorsement contracts won't have to cover up the manufacturer's logo with the American flag like Michael Jordan did in 1992. (Also: Expect to see lots of close-ups of LeBron James' patriotic mouth guard.)
2. Beach volleyball may not be quite as beachy. Admit it, the Olympic uniforms you care second-most about are the bikinis worn in whichever beach volleyball match is being shown on TV at any given moment. The bikinis have been controversial for over a decade now, as critics (including some players) have said the skimpy outfits are an inappropriate attempt to sexualize the participants and pander to male viewers. So the International Volleyball Federation has ruled that the players can now wear shorts and sleeved tops. Good thing, too, because the weather may be cold enough to make long sleeves necessary.
3. End of an era. Admit it, the other Olympic uniforms you've been looking forward to seeing are the Australian women's basketball unitards. The skin-tight one-piece design debuted at the 1994 world championships, and the Aussies have kept wearing it at every Olympiad since. That run will come to an end in London, however, as the team has opted to wear a more traditional uni consisting of shorts and a tank top.
4. Blade runner. Expect to see a lot of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee South African sprinter who runs on carbon fiber blades. Uni Watch will let others debate whether Pistorius' blades give him an unfair advantage or whether he should have been allowed to compete in the London to begin with. The one sure thing is that he's the most compelling-looking athlete the Games have ever seen.
5. Dimple me this. Nike is claiming that the dimpled surface on its TurboSpeed track suit, which athletes from several countries will be wearing, can shave 0.023 seconds of a sprinter's time in the 100-meter dash. The dimpled technology is based on the same principles that govern golf ball design, which raises an interesting question: Will a runner with dimpled cheeks run faster than a runner with regular cheeks?
6. Flower power. American runner Alysia Montaño has a great visual signature: She wears a flower in her hair while running. It's not clear if the extra weight and drag from the flower will negate the speed advantage from the dimpled Nike suit.
7. Hoop(-striped) dreams. Speaking of signature styles, high jumper Erik Kynard has made a habit of wearing purple and white striped socks while competing for Kansas State. Now that he's part of the American track and field team in London, will he bring the striped hose to the Olympic stage? Stay tuned.
8. Everybody in the pool! Four years ago, the swimming record book was being rewritten by Speedo's LZR swimsuit, which turned out to be so buoyant that international swimming officials banned it from the sport in 2009. So swimsuit manufacturers have been busy coming up with designs that can provide a hydrodynamic advantage without running afoul of the new rules. Their latest innovations are based on the little V-shaped ridges in sharkskin -- sort of like Nike's dimpled design for track and field. You can read about it here. (As an aside, many of the American swimmers have gotten tattoos of the Olympic rings.)
9. Land of the
rising radiating sun. If you're into gymnastics, keep an eye on the Japanese, whose uniform design features a massive, radiating sun. A global warming metaphor, perhaps? Whatever it is, it should make for one of the more distinctive looks at the Games.
10. "Be seeing you." The jackets being worn by the New Zealand men for the opening ceremonies look exactly like the iconic jacket worn by Patrick McGoohan in the classic 1960s TV series "The Prisoner." Do people in New Zealand know about "The Prisoner"? Does anyone reading this column know about "The Prisoner"? Even if the answers are no and no, it's still a pretty cool coincidence.
Honorable Mention: The American BMX uniforms look sort of like jeans with T-shirts. ... Field hockey will be played on blue turf. No word on whether Boise State gets a royalty. ... Is the entire American track team really going to wear these dayglo shoes? Hope not. ... You've heard a lot about the American uniforms for the opening ceremonies, but what about the other countries? You can see an assortment of their outfits for the opening ceremonies here. ... And if you want to stroll down memory lane, here are some of the more regrettable uniforms from past opening ceremonies. ... Meanwhile, what about the closing ceremony? Yes, there are separate uniforms for that, too, as you can see here. ... Were you aware that there are also official uniforms to be worn on the medal stand? It's true! ... Nike appears to be using the same basic design template for several countries' track and field uniforms. It's not a bad design, but the cookie-cutter approach is disappointing. ... When you think of a Union Jack, you think of red on a blue background. But the British uniforms feature a blue Union Jack, which has sparked a bit of controversy. ... Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, who'll be competing in the 10 meter air rifle competition, will have the distinction of wearing a maternity uniform, because she's eight months pregnant.
Finally, remember Uni Watch's standard Olympics refrain: Gold is tacky, silver is classy and nobody cares about bronze. And sure enough, the silver-medal design is the cream of this year's medal crop. So no matter who you're rooting for, cheer them on with Uni Watch's official Olympics rallying cry: "Go for the silver!!"
Paul Lukas plans to get his gold medal silver-plated (and also can't believe bowling still isn't an Olympic sport). If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.