In anticipation of the Rio 2016 Olympics, which begin Aug. 5, Nike revealed more of the uniforms and technology it’s developed for Olympic athletes at an event Tuesday at its showroom at 45 Grand Street in Manhattan. The event was called “Unlimited Innovation” and included displays of the new track and field spikes, Team USA uniforms for basketball, tennis, track and the USA Women’s National Soccer Team, as well as the medal stand uniforms.
Stylistically, the uniforms were all driven by a clean, graphic “flow-motion” point of view to accentuate the movement of the body, said Martin Lotti, vice president and global creative director of categories at Nike. The medal stand uniforms — the jackets from which will be available for purchase at NikeLab, along with many of the products developed for the Olympics — were inspired by classic tracksuits and looked sleek and elegant. Done in navy with muted red knit sleeves — not unlike the Nike Flyknit weave — that stretch to reveal different colors, the medal stand uniforms embody “the idea of performance, style and soulful details,” said Lotti. For example, inside the U.S. jackets is a patch that bears the phrase “Out of many, you are the one,” which is taken from the U.S. dollar bill.
The event was a chance for Nike to show off the performance-driven innovations it has developed for athletes. One of the biggest fashion and technological statements came from the track-and-field shoes. “The athletes are telling us, ‘Make me look fast, be fast and feel fast,” said Lotti.
All of the shoes are done in a fusion of Nike Volt (fluorescent yellow) and hyper-pink, chosen because yellow is apparently the most visible color on the spectrum to the human eye and the blend of yellow and pink create a visual blur when in motion. Expect to see them on all the athletes’ feet, particularly Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the two-time gold medalist in the 100-meter sprint. Nike developed a new spike for her with the goal of making her one-mile-per-hour faster. Key to it is a new plate that is significantly stiffer than previous styles and features fully integrated spikes that don’t need to be screwed in. The plate, in an iridescent blend of deep purple and blue, is also quite pretty.
There were significant developments in the track uniforms as well. The Nike Vapor Track and Field kits feature garments using AeroSwift technology made with recycled polyester. Lotti explained the technology was developed on the yarn-level, “literally under a microscope,” to produce fabric that, according to him, is 10 percent lighter, 25 percent more moisture-wicking and quicker-drying, with 50 percent more stretch than Nike’s previous highest-quality fabrics. The kits are developed as a system with all the pieces working together to give the athletes more speed. Within the system, some of the niftier developments include AeroBlade tape, which is actual tape with textured bumps, or blades, on it that runners can stick to their forearms and lower legs — the fastest parts of the body — to increase speed. “You would think smooth is fast but that’s not true,” said Lotti. “Texture is fast. The AeroBlades are almost like a golf ball. It’s not smooth, it has texture to cut through the air.”
The tape, along with adhesive bibs that stick to the garments, as opposed to being pinned on, were two of Lotti’s favorite developments. “One area that always drove me crazy is we build sleek, elegant, tailored garments and right before the race, they put a bib on and literally pin it on,” said Lotti. “It’s completely inefficient and not aerodynamic. The pin was invented in 1849 and has not evolved since. If we’re literally obsessing down to shaving fractions of seconds, we needed to address this.”
The bibs and tape will be available for consumer purchase. The latter already had a fan in Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who was on hand along with Michael Johnson and Scottie Pippen for a former Olympian Q&A. “I wish I could have had that tape,” said Joyner-Kersee, who won gold medals in the heptathlon in 1988 and 1992, and was generally impressed by how far Nike tech has come since she was competing. “Just the feel of the uniforms is remarkable from when I was competing. With the big old clunky stuff I had, the closest I could come to aerodynamic was just pulling my hair slicked back.”