NEW YORK -- Activewear firms are in the final stretch preparing for their big Olympic moments.
Just two weeks shy of the opening ceremonies of the Winter games on Feb. 8, these brands are nipping and tucking broadcasters' wardrobes for their on-air coverage. They're also putting the final touches on their celebrity endorsements and product placements, while wear-testing their performance attire for athletes with such activities as suspending aerialists from bungee chords.
Adidas will outfit more Olympic athletes than any other brand, Nike is counting on skier Picabo Street's comeback, flashy hockey helmets, and speedskaters to make a splash, and Burton reps will be cheering on snowboarder Shannon Dunn as she rushes for her second Olympic medal, having won a bronze in Nagano, Japan in 1998.
Capezio is banking on Sarah Hughes, a newcomer to the U.S. women's figure skating team who trains and warms up in Capezio, to bedazzle young skaters and drum up some hype for the brand. Shots of Hughes working out in Capezio are expected to be included in taped vignettes shown during Olympic coverage. She appears in the brand's advertising and wears the product, but does not have an endorsement deal with them.
Hughes will appear in a new Capezio print ad that breaks during the Olympics and in the brand's new catalog that drops in March. The Olympics always renew interest and help kickstart participation in figure skating, said Capezio head designer Liz Livingstone.
Adidas is taking the most conventional route to get some air time, but it's also gone after some riskier endeavors by sponsoring daredevils in skeleton, a first-time Olympic sport that's similar to luge, except athletes ride facedown.
Burton also isn't afraid to mix things up. During most of the competition in Park City, Utah, the company will host rooftop parties at Mountain Logic for participants and spectators.
Unlike the Sydney Summer Games in 2000, where many viewers tuned out due to the taped telecasts, in Salt Lake City most of the events will air live. NBC is banking on that to attract the fickle teenage audience, which has wandered from Olympic coverage, as well maintaining the interest of their loyal baby-boomer parents.On top of that, the home team is primed to win 20 medals, outdoing their performance at any other Winter Games, and Americans like to see Americans win on their own soil, said Olympic swimmer Donna de Varona, a seasoned Olympic commentator and a special advisor for the upcoming Games.
"After 9/11, the world certainly needs a gathering place," de Varona said. "The opening ceremony and first events will tell us how responsive the public will be. If [the looks in] the opening ceremonies catch on, we'll see a lot of people rushing out to buy things."
She hinted that the U.S. team's attire for the opening ceremonies could create a fad, but declined to elaborate. She also said to keep an eye on skating styles. such as Vera Wang's creation for Michelle Kwan and Nike's Swift Skin design for speed skaters.
Even if the Games have become overly commercialized, the pitch is bound to be more patriotic this time around.
During this month's Sundance Film Festival in Park City, the site of several Olympic events, Roots sold out of its patriot blue Olympic beret three times at its store there, a company spokesman said. Roots is suiting up the U.S., British and Canadian Olympic teams for the opening ceremonies, and berets are expected to be worn. As a major Sundance sponsor, Roots also made a point of giving its Olympic merchandise to celebrities like Shannon Elizabeth.
Roots will have pro hockey players sample its Olympic looks at a special event Jan. 31, the night before the National Hockey League All-Star game.
After four years of research, Nike has unveiled a hooded, full-length speed-skating outfit called Swift Skin. The garment has an aerodynamic design, covering skaters from head to ankle, and comes with stretch coverings for speed skates. There are vent panels on the center back and underarms, and 3M treated fabric on the inner thigh to help reduce friction. Speed skaters from the U.S., Australia and the Netherlands will compete in Swift Skin.
Swift Skin's introduction is an extension of Nike's Project Swift, its effort to develop performance-enhancing items for elite athletes. Track star Cathy Freeman's eye-catching silver suit at the Sydney Summer Olympics two years ago marked the project's first initiative.Reebok International will hold its annual Human Rights Awards ceremony in Salt Lake City on Feb. 7, the eve of the opening ceremony. Robert Redford and Bishop Desmond Tutu will help hand out this year's awards.
Hosting the awards event in Utah allows the brand to have a presence near the Games, even though it does not have any sponsored athletes or teams competing, a Reebok spokeswoman said.
Asked during a Reebok event Friday night in New York about how the Winter Games could help get more women involved with fitness, Reebok chairman and chief executive officer Paul Fireman said, "I don't think women necessarily bond with a group of athletes for the sake of sports. They bond with the qualities that women and men go through to be fit. The Olympics just adds to that value."
Salomon and Adidas have leased a three-floor office building in Park City to use as a hospitality center, athlete hangout and press center during the Olympics. The company will also have product demos at local ski resorts and will unveil its new Nordic ski boot on athletes at the Games. In addition, Salomon will have an 18-wheeler driving around town equipped with side panels showing Olympic updates and ski movies.
Having provided thousands of parkas, pants, fleece jackets and winter accessories for NBC's broadcast teams and film crews, Columbia Sportswear ceo Tim Boyle and his mother, Gert, will take in the first few days of the event. They will also help Galyan's plug the Columbia brand and sell the NBC-inspired merchandise at the chain's new Salt Lake City store.
Liz Claiborne is suiting up a handful of NBC commentators for the Games. Former Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders, a Speedo-sponsored athlete, recently visited the sportswear company's showroom to pick up some on-air attire, as well as a few items from Liz Claiborne Collection for herself, a company spokeswoman said.
NBC commentator Hannah Storm is packing up 20 Liz Claiborne outfits for her Salt Lake trip. During a fitting last week in Montel Williams's dressing room at his midtown studio, Storm said her look will be more casual than the suits she favors for NBA broadcasts. She and stylist Amy Acton, who also works with Williams, agreed to go with cozier styles geared for the wintery, mountainous setting. Hence, soft turtleneck sweaters, simple skirts and pants will be donned. What she won't compromise is high heels from the likes of Stuart Weitzman.Even though Storm's personal style favors jeans and leather pants, she plays it safe on-air. The aim is to be remembered for what you said, but viewers are more likely to comment on what one wears, she said.
"On TV, you don't want to be distracted by the clothes," she said. "It's not necessarily like walking down a runway. I like very nice and basic things with fun jewelry to change it up. Liz Claiborne's clothes are very all-American. In that sense, they're comforting. I won't look like I'm someone from New York. I could be living in Indianapolis."
Having already experienced an emergency landing and F-16 escort, after a private jet lost radio contact shortly after takeoff from Salt Lake in November, Storm said the mishap showed her and Jim McKay how effective the Olympic security will be. Ironically, the pair had been in Salt Lake City for a seminar about Olympic security.
Liz Claiborne is also outfitting NBC's front women for figure skating. Beth Ruyak, Sandra Bezic and Tracy Winters are particularly enthusiastic about sorting through Claiborne's cocktail dresses and evening suits. In the past, the event's dress code called for evening gowns, the Liz Claiborne spokeswoman said.
In what could be the most unusual undertaking relating to apparel for the home of the Games, New York-based designer Shelly Bomb is suiting up aerialists for the nightly medal awards ceremonies. Through most of the Nineties, she created Peace Bomb, a Japanimation-inspired apparel line, before moving on to be the ringleader and key performer in Shelly Bomb's Gyrating Circus.
Fire and ice are the focus for her Olympic creations, including white Polartec-lined ski jumpsuits with a vinyl chest panel and tiny strobe lights, and flame-like images on the garments' forearms and calves.
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