There is so much excitement around the Olympics, being held in Tokyo this summer. We are just a few weeks away! Unfortunately, due to COVID-safety precautions, the Tokyo Olympics will be a spectator-only event this year. However, it will still be exciting to watch on TV. Another amazing part of the Olympics this year is that Nike played a role in the redesign of teams’ uniforms.
It was cool to sit down with Tania Flynn, of the Nike Design Team and talk about the redesign of the Tokyo Olympic Uniforms.
We asked about Nike’s involvement in the redesign of the Tokyo Olympic Uniforms, where Tania further went into depth about the concepts around the design and changes. She stated that they were truly inspired by the two greatest dynasties in all of the sports, being the USA Women’s National Team and the USA Women’s Basketball Team, as they were able to find so much inspiration and tell rich stories around their legacy. And as far a uniform changes, they were able to gather insights about the athletes themselves. They utilized their own research lab, which is NSRL (Nike Sports Research Lab), and have been focused on adding resources for the women athlete, by leveraging knowledge from folks like the equipment managers. They know everything about the athletes; like the habits and the preferences of the athletes. For example, they learned about the women’s national team, as the women athletes were actually requesting a size smaller in shorts and a size larger in their jerseys. And that knowledge helped them think about the proportions of the uniforms themselves of where they wanted more modesty, where they wanted more coverage, and where they needed more mobility, to incorporate a range of motion. They used their research lab and their 4D access to think about the body in motion, differentiating the movements of a basketball athlete compared to a soccer athlete and really utilizing that technology to keep making improvements; i.e. where they need to be the most breathable, where they need to be the most stretchy, etc.. And then that coupled with their preferences, it helped Tania’s team make the right changes for them.
We inquired about unique pieces that Tania could share and expand upon that set these uniforms apart. Tania said that her team discussed the scientific aspect of it. There is that emotional piece too, when you put something on – that looks good, feels good. And just knowing that the players are representing their country. So the USA Basketball Team has a red Away Jersey, and that’s what helps set them apart, as the men don’t get to wear a red jersey, and it really started with that historic 1996 Team. So there are details like 12 stars, representing the 12 women on the team, the USA script font on their shorts is the same one from the ’96 team uniforms, so they brought that back to truly pay homage. And then there is a light blue design on the neckline and that represents the early Olympic games – the Olive Leaf classic Olympic games. Tania expressed how cool she thought that was, and further explained how the women’s national team have 4 stars, to represent 4 Olympic victories and 4 World Cups. “So their uniform is like a modern graphic take on the classic stars and stripes. The Women’s National Team is not traditional so they take tradition and twist it a bit.”
We asked how Nike has been working on this uniform change for the specific teams, where Tania answered that they have a team that is always working on the Olympics. “As soon as we close the door on one Olympics, we open the door on another. But on average it takes about 18 months, to create these uniforms.”
We followed up on Tania saying that there were athletes that were involved in the changes, by asking if there were any requests from athletes to match their sneakers? Tania answered, “Well, I would say on terms of matching sneakers, the palette is pretty tight when we think about rules and federation, but in addition to the Nike Research Labs, which helped us with data and analytics where we talked about breathability, stretch and body in motion – we create from there, and from there, have the athletes wear the product and validate it. We had some feedback from Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath on the Women’s National Team as they have really powerful legs who are powerful kickers, and we think about their shorts – they like the rise/hemline shorter in the front, so they really have that range of motion with their leg, and longer in the back, so they have that coverage, so things like that. It’s not uneven or a sewing mistake, it’s supposed to be that way. That allows for movement, so the design is really informed by the function, but also creates a cool and interesting look.”
We asked Tania if there any particular sports or teams she’s excited to see in the upcoming Olympics, where Tania exclaimed, “I am excited for the Olympics! After being on a sports hiatus for 2020, it’s just a great sign and a sign of hope for the world – to be weeks away from opening ceremonies. And on the West Coast, the ceremony will be easy! But I hope to see that. I think I’ve spent a good portion of my career at Nike designing for Nike Basketball and Brand Jordan. I’m just a big basketball fan in general, so I’m partial there. But the US Women’s National Team’s story is so powerful, it’s like how can you not be inspired and interested in watching them and see – can they go for number 5? And then, I’m also really excited about skateboarding this year.”
We asked Tania if there is anything additional she wanted to share about the process, and Tania said, “what comes to mind when I think about the uniform design – I think about some of the feedback from athletes like Sue Bird and A’ja Wilson about how that red jersey makes them feel. They talked about how that’s an ultimate goal to be an Olympian. A’ja talked about how wearing that red uniform really honoring those that broke the glass ceiling and it’s just such an inspiring moment seeing these women athletes, and the excellence and the camaraderie for me personally, that just inspires me and I am so happy to be able to witness it and be a part of it.” If you haven’t been inspired before to watch or cheer for our Olympians, take the time this year to watch and cheer on the different Olympic teams. We will leave you with a few quotes from our athletes Sue Bird, A’ja Wilson, and Diana Taurasi.
“I think when you put the red jersey on, the weight of it, not physical weight, but the weight of knowing that you’re representing your entire country, you’re representing the best of the best, but you’re also representing all the players that have put that jersey on before you. And then you’re going to go out there and you’re going to take every country’s best shot. Everybody plays their best against us. Everybody. So when you put that on, you kind of know what you’re putting on your shoulders. It’s pretty special, it’s pretty crazy. And especially for me, because growing up, that was the ultimate goal, was to be an Olympian. So the first time I put it on, that was me achieving something. Now every other time after that, that’s me trying to prove something.”
“Now seeing that I have my own jersey, it’s definitely full circle. I never would have imagined this. So it’s pretty cool that we’re paying homage to the ’96 team because those are the ones that really cracked that glass ceiling. And now it’s up to us to shatter that thing. And I’m so happy that I’m a part of the shatter, because I’m all in there for that.”
“You just can’t explain it. You can play for UConn, you can play for the Phoenix Mercury, you can play for Ekaterinburg, the best team in, you know, in Europe for the last 10 years. And I’ve gotten to do all that. And then the minute you put on that USA jersey, all that seems to not matter. You’re literally playing basketball for every single person who plays basketball in the States. That’s how I feel.”