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2008 Olympic Uniforms: Designed for Performance

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The difference between winning and not winning in some Olympic events can come down to a thousandth of a second. With so much at stake, no detail can be overlooked. The uniforms worn by athletes during their performance of a lifetime are not designed for looks, but for performance enhancement, no matter how slight.

Nike developed uniforms for Team USA's track and field competitions. The multi-part outfits are called the Nike Swift System of Dress. Athletes choose which accessories they feel will be advantageous. There are socks, gloves, and arm coverings built to reduce drag. Wearing arm covering while running in the August heat may seem counterproductive, but tests show that the sleeves reduce drag by 19% over bare arms, and the long socks reduce drag by 12.5%. Nike figures the improvements in the garments since the 2004 Olympics in Athens will mean a benefit of .02 seconds in the 100 meter race.
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Team USA athletes wear various forms of the Nike uniforms designed for different events. Continue reading for innovations in uniforms for swimming, basketball, and the heat of Beijing in August.

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The USA basketball teams will also have lighter uniforms.

The new Nike designed uniform for the USA Men's and Women's teams eliminates 25 centimeters of material and reduces the weight by 31 percent when compared with current uniforms.

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Nike is supplying uniforms to China's Olympic team as well, for sports from BMX to basketball. Pictured is NBA star Yi JianLian in his Olympic uniform.
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Adidas is providing Olympic uniforms for Australian athletes. Uniforms for certain sports will feature Thermoplastic Urethane Powerbands for muscle compression in selected areas of the body, depending on the sport.

Working in unison with the muscles they function like springs and testing using the new technology has resulted in significant performance benefits including a 1.1% increase in speed, 5.3% increase on average power output and an 0.8% decrease in oxygen consumption resulting in increased efficiency and endurance.

The Australian uniforms will also feature a complex system of mesh and vents to regulate body temperature.
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Swimmers wearing Speedo's new LZR Racer swimsuits have already broken three dozen world records this year. Developed with technology from NASA, the full-length suit is made from extremely lightweight but strong elastic material. The form-fitting panels are bonded, which eliminates seams and the drag they cause. They will be available for sale to the public later this summer.

Japan, Australia, and the USA are among the nations who will wear the LZR Racers. Countries that have contracts with other suppliers protested the suit, saying it gives swimmers an unfair advantage, but those other suppliers have since developed their own high-tech swimsuits.
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The Powerskin R-evolution swimsuit from Arena boasts fabric even lighter than the LZR Racer. It is made of a single piece of fabric, with no seams in the front. The Italian and Russian Olympic swimmers will wear this suit.
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Swimsuit company Tyr developed their own full-length Tracer swimsuit, with extreme water repellency, lightweight fabric, and targeted muscle compression. Olympic swimmers from France will wear the Tracer.

Uniforms make less of a difference for artistic sports such as diving, gymnastics, martial arts, and equestrian competition. In those events, you'll see more traditional styles with a slight distinctive flair for each country.

See also: 2008 Olympic Team Uniforms for a look at what athletes from some nations will wear in Beijing for the opening and/or closing ceremonies.

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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