When flagbearer Wayde van Niekerk leads Team SA into the Maracanã Stadium in Rio during the Olympic opening ceremony on August 5th, they will probably be dressed in the smart, blue formal attire locally made for them by Sedgars Sport.
But, no doubt our best medal hopeful will be thinking forward to August 12th, when he will again be entering an Olympic stadium for the 400m sprint. He will not be wearing the sleek adidas racing suit he is used to, but the Olympic team wear supplied by the newcomer Chinese brand, 361 Degrees. He, and the other South African athletes, will also be competing in the kit supplied by this relatively unknown brand.
Founded in 2003 in China, 361 Degrees last year started expanding internationally to the US, Brazil, Europe, and this year also to the UK. Although they have no representation in South Africa, SASCOC selected them as clothing sponsor of our Olympic medal hopefuls. So far, SASCOC failed to provide information about this sponsorship, or what the performance kit will look like.
The 361 Degree brand has a big footprint in China, especially in footwear, yet the Chinese Olympic federation opted for kit supplied by Nike. But, the Olympic officials and ground staff in Rio will be wearing non-performance apparel supplied by 361 Degrees.
Van Niekerk will, no doubt, cast a surreptitious glance at his main contenders in the 400m – like London 2012 gold medalist Kirani James from Grenada, who will be competing in lightweight compression kit supplied by PUMA. Some of the features James will enjoy include taping that provides focused muscle support and reinforced warp knit compression to assure a full range of movement. Van Niekerk will know the 17 second lead he had on James at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing last year is a very small window.
Then there is LaShawn Merritt from the US, who was 30 seconds behind Van Niekerk in Beijing. His American Olympic teamwear speed suit was developed by Nike in a wind tunnel and features triangular shapes, called AeroBlades, to channel air around his body to make him more aerodynamic … question: could this make a 30 second difference?
Duathlon World Champion Richard Murray is another Team SA medal hopeful who will probably be looking across to Team GB (Great Britain), where Alistair Brownlee is the favourite to win gold in the triathlon in Rio. The UK athletes will be wearing official uniforms designed by fashion designer Stella McCartney for adidas and will be competing in the adidas Climachill technical fabric to counter the Brazilian heat in the day and cooler evenings.
In the lead up to the Blitzbokke ending second on the log of the past two HSBC Sevens World Series, they became accustomed to playing in their ASICS Springbok jerseys that were custom-designed for them in the ASICS Institute of Sport Science (ISS) in Kobe, Japan. The Springboks were able to give their input about the specific features they wanted in their jerseys that weighed only 180gm. For example, the technical fabric has a slippery feel and stretch quality so that players can’t be grabbed and held with ease, which the ISS designers combined with Silicone Super Grip dots placed where the players would be most comfortable gripping on to the ball, or fellow players.
The 361 Degrees brand does not have these facilities.
One of the main rugby rivals, New Zealand, will also be playing in kit from an Asian brand, Peak Sportswear. But, their Olympic kit had been developed by New Zealand designer Shaun Hansen, with input from several of the 300-odd athletes who will all receive about 45 items made of technical fabric constructed to counter the Brazilian heat of around 28 degrees.
Winner of the HSBC Sevens World Series the past two years, Fiji, will be playing in rugby kit supplied by seasoned Rugby Union and Rugby League teamwear supplier BLK. The brand will also be supplying the kit for the American sevens team.
Team SA’s swimming medal hopefuls, Cameron van den Burgh and Chad le Clos will, however, enjoy the benefit of the Arena suits they are used to wearing. The technical racing suits are considered to be equipment, rather than team uniforms.