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One Team Answers Wardrobe Debate

German gymnasts compete in unitards, saying women should wear what they want
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 25, 2021 11:30 AM CDT
One Team Takes Stand on What to Wear
Pauline Schaefer-Betz of Germany performs her floor exercise routine Sunday in Tokyo.   (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

(Newser) – The team's outfits looked similar to the others in the room as the arena lights gleamed off crystals crisscrossing their chests and down their crimson and white sleeves. But the German gymnastics team's new Olympic suits didn't stop at their hips. For decades, female gymnasts have worn bikini-cut leotards. In qualifying on Sunday, however, the German team instead wore unitards that stretched to their ankles, intending to push back against sexualization of women in gymnastics, the AP reports. The Tokyo Olympics are the first Summer Games since Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, was sent to prison for 176 years for sexually abusing hundreds of gymnasts. At his sentencing, athletes—some of them Olympians—described how the sport's culture allowed for abuse and objectification of young women and girls. When she first wore a unitard in April, Germany's Sarah Voss, 21, said she wanted to be a "role model for young gymnasts who don't feel very safe in every situation," per the BBC.

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The wardrobe revolution, while widely championed, has not so far started a trend. Leotards that leave the legs bare were worn by every other female gymnast during qualifying at the Tokyo Games. But that's part of the message, the German athletes said. "We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear," said Elisabeth Seitz, per Time. American superstar Simone Biles said in June that she prefers leotards because they lengthen the leg and make her appear taller. "But I stand with their decision to wear whatever they please and whatever makes them feel comfortable," Biles said. “So if anyone out there wants to wear a unitard or leotard, it's totally up to you." At qualifying Sunday, the announcer over the loudspeaker called the outfits "very nice indeed." The German team did not qualify for finals, but the announcer pondered if their debut on the Olympic stage might increase the popularity of unitards. (Female athletes have been told their outfits are too revealing and not revealing enough.)

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