After failing to medal in the first six of 12 events at Sochi, members of the U.S. speedskating team pleaded with the Olympic committee to let them change their uniforms. The committee obliged, and the skaters ditched their brand new, high-tech custom designs—called the "Mach 39"—in favor of the suits they wore at last month’s Speed Skating World Cup in Japan. The skaters claimed the vents in the back of the fancy gear, designed by Under Armour to allow heat to escape, also let air in, creating drag and making it hard for skaters to stay in the lowest, speediest position. (The U.S. team hasn't medaled since canning the Mach 39 uniforms, leading Under Armour to defend its design.)
This isn’t the first time athletic uniforms have had serious design flaws. Uniforms that fail to serve their various purposes—whether to increase speed or keep an athlete covered up—are, sadly, a bit of a recurring theme in athletic competitions. Here are some of the worst uniform fails in recent sports history.
Performance-enhancing full-body swimsuits, such as Speedo’s LZR Racer, were banned from competition by FINA, the International Swimming Federation, in 2010. Known as the "Speedo surfboard" or "doping on a hanger," they turned human skin shark-sleek and helped swimmers break records. Now, FINA rules stipulate that swimsuit fabric has to be water-permeable. Suits can only cover the area between the waist and the knees for males, and can’t go beyond the shoulders or below the knees for females. The ban was a loss for speed but a win for style—the full-body suits made swimmers look like weird steel torpedoes.
Thanks to some fancy but leaky raincoats, the American golf team got drenched at the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales. Lisa Pavin, wife of team captain Corey Pavin, was given an unlimited budget to design this ill-fated raingear, and she insisted on embroidering names on the backs of the jackets in addition to stripes on the pants and sleeves. But embroidering meant poking thousands of tiny holes in the fabric, making them leak like colanders. Apparently, over the course of 20 meetings, Sun Mountain, the golf and outerwear company that collaborated on the designs, warned Pavin about possible leakage, but she was set on embroidery. After shivering under umbrellas, soaked in the October downpours, Tiger Woods and the rest of the American team had to hit up the merchandise tent and spend $6,552 on new raincoats, which were emblazoned with the Euro team’s Ryder Cup logo. Eep.
Then, of course, there are the countless nip-slips, pants splits, wedgies, and other mortifying wardrobe malfunctions that, at times, outshine athletes’ actual performances. Perhaps the most epic fail of recent years: British bobsledder Gillian Cooke’s skin-tight Lycra suit tragically split as she bent over before jumping into her sleigh at a 2010 world championship event in Switzerland. The video racked up over 1.5 million views on YouTube—far more than any videos of bobsledders actually bobsledding. That's one way to make your name as an athlete.
From a style perspective, hockey pants certainly beat the goofy shorts and hose outfit contemporary players are stuck with. But when it comes to performance, shorts and hose are way more practical than pants: players need a lot of padding in the crotch region, but can't have bulky fabric all the way down their legs, as it would limit motion—hence, the thick shorts and hose combination. But in 1981 and 1982, the Flyers and the Whalers tried pants anyway, called Cooperalls (named after manufacturing company Cooper), to disastrous results: Players found them too slick, and every time they fell, they'd keep sliding. Many players got injured by sliding into endboards. The NHL banned Cooperalls in the 1982-3 season. Back to shorts and hose.
At Sochi, Swedish skier Henrik Harlaut's extra-large white trousers slipped down during a flashy finish at his qualifying round event. Then, Canadian bobsledder Christopher Spring posted a photo of what he called his "Power Belly" popping out of his too-tight racing suit one day before the event, narrowly avoiding the fate of the British bobsledder before him.
What uniform fails did we miss? Sound off in the comments.