The dynamism and virtuoso skills of the USA women’s national gymnastics team won hearts the world over during the Rio Olympics. Here, we showcase some of the star gymnasts, and speak to them about their passion and personal journeys.
With their bold and beautiful flag-inspired leotards glittering under the arena lights, champion athletes such as Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez are the embodiment of grace, optimism and sporting prowess. Dusted with Swarovski crystals, the bold, bespangled leotards worn by the Olympic team are provided by USA Gymnastics’ official partners, GK Elite and Under Armour, who kit out the national team (which also includes the World Championship team). The leotards not only give confidence, they also need to create drama and theatre in the arena to show off each gymnast’s pyrotechnic moves to the maximum with brilliant graphics and play of light.
This is a team of inspirational young women at the very top of their game. “The USA Gymnastics team really is at its best right now in terms of positive environment, sharing of ideas and knowing that Team USA comes first,” enthuses Rhonda Faehn, Senior Vice President for USA Gymnastics for Women’s Artistic program and three-time NCAA Champion. “I love our diversity and how at every camp and international competition, the athletes share experiences and friendships that will last them a lifetime. Gymnastics is a beautiful sport and each gymnast is unique with different gifts. Don’t compare yourself to others but share your gift with pride.”
As such, the design process for the women’s artistic gymnastics apparel is “extremely detailed and thoughtful,” explains Kelly McKeown, Chief Design Officer & EVP of Corporate Relations for GK Elite. “Knowing that athletes go through the progression of many levels throughout their gymnastics experience, we strive to cater to each of the stages by offering a range of styling.” As many gymnasts start young (team member Morgan Hurd, for example, began training at the age of three), it is important that all levels are embraced, from toddlers through to Olympic athletes as well as collegiate gymnasts. “High stretch fabrics are an important part of the comfort and fit that we focus on when engineering a leotard,” says McKeown. “Under the intense lights of a large arena these small athletes have a strong presence with their extraordinary talent and sparkling leotards. The extreme range of motion that takes place during a gymnastics routine is why it is so important to use the proper fabrics and develop a pattern to accommodate the movement of the most extreme tumbling passes.”
No small wonder then that crystals are a much-used embellishment in the realm of gymnasts’ gear, and one of the hallmarks of a GK Elite leotard. “The demand for more crystals has grown immensely over the years,” explains McKeown. “Fifteen years ago, we lightly embellished leotards with hotfix crystals by hand using air tables and tweezers. As technology became available to us we were able to create more intricate designs at a much faster speed. Athletes show up on the field of play looking elegant, regal and polished.”
Words: Anna Wallace–Thompson as Seen in Salt Issue 16 (Spring / Summer 2018)