No one ever said fashion wasn’t a spectator sport. Here are a few up-and-coming Olympic athletes with a dose of style sense to keep an eye on in Athens.
This story first appeared in the July 15, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Tela O’Donnell, Wrestler, USA
Freestyle women’s wrestling is making its debut as an Olympic sport this year, and 22-year-old Tela O’Donnell is ready for action. She is one of four American women competing and has risen fast in the world of women’s wrestling, having won her first U.S. title last year.
The laid-back O’Donnell, who hails from Homer, Alaska, favors spandex shorts and Under Armour shirts to train in and describes her overall attitude to fashion as “laid-back and comfortable.” Off the mat, she favors stores such as Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch, and she also professes a passion for Victoria’s Secret. What’s most important to O’Donnell now is ensuring that women’s wrestling continues to grow and gain acceptance. “Wrestling helps develop confidence and mental skills,” she smiles. “It’s a wonderful sport to learn about life from.” — Melanie Kletter
Virginie Dedieu, Synchronized Swimming, France
France’s Virginie Dedieu can do everything in water but walk on it. But the 25-year-old synchronized-swimming champ hopes to do exactly that in Athens, where she is considered a favorite for the gold medal. Four years ago, she scored a bronze in Sydney, and last year, she won the world championship.
Her work has paid off. Adidas is Dedieu’s official sponsor for Athens and Celine asked the athlete to perform for the launch of its Olympic swimwear collection this spring. Meanwhile, Dedieu’s not a one-act girl. She’s also an architecture student in Paris and sketches in her free time. — Emilie Marsh
Sabrina Mockenhaupt, Runner, Germany
German runner Sabrina Mockenhaupt, or “Mocki,” as she’s known, is having quite a year. The 23-year-old middle- and long-distance runner has covered 10,000 meters in fewer than 32 minutes twice so far in 2004, qualifying her for the Olympics and making her the fourth fastest German 10,000-meter runner of all time.
At a petite 5 feet, 1 inch and at 99 pounds, she says she “has to run fast, otherwise people overlook me.” Puma didn’t overlook her, though, and has been outfitting and sponsoring Mocki for three years.
When she isn’t running, Mocki likes to dance — and to shop. Her taste in clothes reflects her fondness for discos. She’s keen on short skirts and boots, and at the moment, says she has “a quirk for white, from boots to tops,” though on the track, red is her color of choice. And when it comes to jeans, “they simply have to be small. The brand doesn’t matter.”
In Cologne, the closest big city to her hometown of Wilgersdorf, Mocki frequents Zara, Mango and Kookai. And, while prices may have been lower and the assortment bigger in the U.S., “I prefer shopping in Germany,” she says. “I’d rather go to just a few shops. Too much of a choice can be overwhelming.” She’s also a beauty fan, and not only when out of training. “For me, makeup contributes to a feeling of well-being at competitions. And when I feel good, I can also run fast.” — Melissa Drier
Kirsten Lawton, Trampoline, England
Kirsten Lawton’s appearance in Athens this summer will be something she’s been preparing most her life for, having started on the trampoline at the age of two. “My mum, who’s also my coach, ran a club, and I think I first competed at age three or four,” says the 23-year-old Olympic contender, who holds a psychology degree. Having juggled university with a six-days-a-week training regime, Lawton admits the past year has been one of the busiest of her life. “It was pretty stressful for a while, but I rearranged my courses so I took my final exams last year.” Lawton will wear her regulation leotard to compete this summer, but when she’s training and competing domestically, Lawton likes to stand out. “I like crazy colors, and I often go for bright leotards,” says Lawton. “I have so many of them, and not one goes unworn.”— Nina Jones
Daniela Rath, High Jumper, Germany
Taking part in this year’s Olympic Games has a particular significance for high-jumping champion Daniela Rath. She narrowly missed being at the event in Sydney four years ago, after she broke both her feet while jumping. At the age of 27, she sees Athens as her last chance to compete in the Olympics.
“This is not a sport that you can do forever,” she says. After a three-year break, she’s back on form and recently achieved the magic 2-meter target. “Being able to jump again without pain was the most beautiful feeling I have ever experienced.”
Today, her height — 5 feet, 9 inches — is not only a competitive advantage, but also helps when it comes to choosing clothes. “High jumpers don’t have the body-shape problems that many sportswomen have,” she says. “You can wear pretty much anything.” Her mixed wardrobe reflects this. Typical outfits range from tight tops combined with baggy pants to romantic chiffon dresses. Her favorite designers are Marni and Dolce & Gabbana. “The only thing I don’t feel comfortable in is a suit,” she says. — Damien McGuinness
Laura Flessel-Colovic, Fencing, France
Laura Flessel-Colovic certainly knows how to get to the point. “My only wish when I compete is that I win,” said the French fencing champion. And, with a gold medal from the 1996 Games in Atlanta and two world championship titles already under her belt, Flessel-Colovic, 32, is sure to keep the competition in Athens on its toes.
Her reputation as a perfectionist also motivated Adidas to collaborate with the athlete to create fencing shoes for the brand. “Fashion and sports are not incompatible,” says Flessel-Colovic, who once walked the runway for Paco Rabanne. “Femininity exists in every sport…even under a mask.” — Emilie Marsh
Federica Pellegrini, Freestyle Swimmer, Italy
Federica Pellegrini, who turns 16 next month, will be the youngest swimmer attending next month’s Olympics. Pellegrini got an early start in swimming and was already a professional by age six.
A typical teenager, Federica likes music, fashion and going out with her friends when she isn’t busy with her twice-a-week training or her homework.
“I like fashion, just as any girl my age. Funny T-shirts are my favorites, but I also like Armani’s elegant suits,” she says. — Chiara Hughes