Halfway into the first week of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, some athletes have already taken issue with the judging. But at these games, there is no discordant French judge at the center of the controversy. Instead, it’s the style police stirring things up.
Figure skater Johnny Weir has provoked two fashion-related confrontations. The first was between Weir and animal rights activists protesting fox fur in his costume. The second was between his fox fur costume and good taste. But at least Weir’s threads show ambition – unlike Kevin Van der Perren of Belgium, whose sparkly skeleton outfit looked like a four-year-old's Halloween costume from the 1980s.
Canadian American national hockey team goaltender Ryan Miller has also drawn ire – not for his play, but for the artwork on his helmet. During last night’s game between Canada and Switzerland, Miller was forced to cover the “Miller Time” logo on the back of his helmet with a large, white piece of tape. International Olympic Committee rules forbid “advertising, demonstrations, and propaganda,” and the question of whether Miller was promoting ice-cold refreshment or his own on-ice performance was too murky to resolve before Canada’s victory over the Swiss.
But perhaps the biggest style uproar of the 2010 Olympics is about the “anti-uniform” – the plaid jacket and faux-denim jeans worn by the U.S. Snowboarding Team. Designed by snowboard manufacturer Burton, the ensemble has raised some questions about the appropriateness of wearing jeans to a formal event, such as an Olympics medal ceremony. Burton defends the faded and torn look – the pants are actually made with waterproof Gore-Tex fabric – as representative of the snowboarder ethic, but at the same time thoroughly American.
Leaving aside the question of how true to snowboarder culture a mass-produced 'distressed' line of high-tech athletic wear may or may not be…I think the anti-uniform just looks cool. Snowboarding invigorated the Winter Olympics when it debuted as a medal sport four years ago in Torino in 1998 in Nagano. Now Snowboard Cross is one of the most exciting and most popular events of the games. The snowboarders are clearly doing something right. They probably deserve the benefit of the doubt – and a little room to experiment - in both sport and fashion.
- Mike Guerriero