The U.S. Gymnasts Have Already Set An Olympic Record

In Paris, Simone Biles and Co. will be wearing leotards decorated with more than 10,000 crystals. The U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team wearing Go For Glory team final competition leotards, covered in almost 10,000 crystals. From left: Jade Carey, Sunisa Lee, Simone Biles, Jordan Chiles and Hezly Rivera. In 2016, shortly before Simone Biles took home five medals at the Rio Olympics while wearing leotards bestrewed with approximately 5,000 crystals, GK Elite, the company behind the leos, announced that it had hit “peak crystal.” GK could not, a spokeswoman said, get any more sparklers on a quarter-yard of fabric U.S. Gymnasts Have Already Set An Olympic Record.

In 2021, at the Tokyo Olympics, the American gymnasts wore leotards with 6,400 crystals. During the competition this year, they will level up yet again by modeling some looks with more than 10,000 crystals. And not just the leotards but the gymnasts wearing them. Effective use of crystals “can accentuate the routine of the gymnasts, their line,” she said. “I am always telling GK I need more.”

Over the last few Olympic cycles, the American team has become known not only for its skills, but for its use of crystals. It has become the team’s signature. “Everybody looks to Team U.S.A. and says, ‘I want to look like that — I want to sparkle like that,’” said Matt Cowan, the chief executive of GK Elite. He would know, since GK also designs the leotards for nine other delegations, including Canada, Australia and Mexico.

As a result, he said, GK is constantly asking: “How can we get more crystals on there? How can we introduce that sparkle and sheen in a new way?”

This year the designers did it not simply by packing on more crystals, but by adding, for the first time, pearls as well. In part that is to underscore the fact that leotards are the most style-centric performance garment in an Olympics that is being touted as the most fashion Olympics ever, thanks to the involvement of French luxury group LVMH, the parent company of Dior, Louis Vuitton and Berluti, all of which are making products for the Games. As with many fashion collections, Ms. Diaz said, GK Elite began “with a trend presentation and mood boards.”

“They’re really evening-wear looks,” she added. “We wanted to lean into that hard for Paris, the fashion capital of the world. So we utilized a lot of high fashion elements, looked at a lot of corsetry, at Art Nouveau architecture, at old Hollywood glamour of the 1920s.” Among the eight options all of the gymnasts will have for their events (they all wear the same style — the Go For Glory — for the team final but otherwise can choose their leo) is the Luminous Legacy leotard, which has more than 10,000 crystals on a base of red, white and blue. It has a V-neck and a corset design at the waist so it looks almost as though the gymnast is wearing an elaborate bustier. U.S. Gymnasts Have Already Set An Olympic Record

U.S. Gymnasts Have Already Set An Olympic Record
The Star Spangled Shine competition leotard, with velvet detailing and 6,359 crystals in six different colors

And the Freedom’s Grace, a white style that is sort of a leotard-meets-lingerie gown, has a sheer lacy mesh at the top, almost 3,500 crystals and just under 1,000 pearls, the largest of which have to be placed by hand, à la couture. “I keep thinking about which one I’ll want to wear, when,” Ms. Lee said. The leos are also priced like evening wear. If sold as-is in the retail market, they would cost about $5,000 each, Mr. Cowan said. “Replica leotards,” without sleeves and with “spanglez” embellishment replacing most of the crystals, will be offered at a more reasonable $89.99.

Getting so much embellishment on a leotard while ensuring that the garment retains its functionality is as much a feat of engineering and technology as it is design. “A leotard, while a piece of apparel, is also a piece of equipment,” Mr. Cowan said. “We’re building this armor for performance, so the base chassis has to be a performance chassis.” Gymnasts get deductions for fiddling with their leotards, so the fit must be seamless, which is why crystal innovation is so important.

“We’re very protective of our technology,” said Kolja Kiofsky, the general manager of Swarovski North America, which has been providing crystals to GK for leotard design for more than a decade. (Swarovski also provides crystals for fashion houses like Versace, Schiaparelli and Prada.)

In 2014 the company developed a patented cut — the Xirius — with 16 facets for more shine, and it has teams in Austria, where Swarovski is based, dedicated to developing new methods to lighten the gems, the better to give gymnasts a performance edge. The tiniest one is only two millimeters wide. The goal, Mr. Kiofsky said, is to make them “light as a feather.” Still, 10,000 crystals add up. The leotards weigh under a pound, but Ms. Diaz said that before the Tokyo Games, “the athletes did pick them up and comment, ‘Wow, these are heavy.’”

And they have told us that they would rather have more crystals, not less.” Indeed, Ms. Lee said, she would like to be, “covered in crystals. The more, the better.” At this point, Mr. Cowan said, that would mean that someone “would basically be walking out in a suit of armored crystal. But someday we’ll do it, just to see what is the absolute number of crystals we can get on a garment. “One day,” he added, “a gymnast would say, ‘I’m here to compete in my armor of crystal,’ and we’re going to make it happen for them.”

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