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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.