Nike Tokyo 2021 Olympic Gear: Medal Holder, Vapormax, Space Hippie

Since 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, American athletes on the Olympic podium have worn Nike. Nike clothing. Nike shoes. Not just on the podium either; Team USA athletes participating in about half of the events, from track and field to football to speed skating, wear a Nike kit. Thanks to an agreement signed in 2019, this quasi-ubiquity will persist at least until the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. The swoosh, as they say, is strong.

But this near ubiquity also comes with a challenge: staying ahead of the curve on said swoosh. With performance technology advancing as fast as it does, when should you start thinking about what equipment athletes will need for the job? following a massive quadrennial global competition?

About four years, in fact. “As soon as the closing ceremony is over and the flame has passed,” said Nike Design Director John Hoke, “our work for the next Summer Olympics begins.” It is not just a marketing discourse. The 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro ended on August 21 of the same year; in September, part of Nike’s design team was in Japan, meeting with the Tokyo Olympic committee to see where the collective heads of its members were.

A number of things became clear very quickly. The first was that Tokyo would be far from Rio. August in the Brazilian city would be familiar to anyone who has been to Miami in the winter: average temperatures of around 78 degrees Fahrenheit and a respite from the usual humidity. Tokyo in August? Not really. Hot, heavy, ugh.

The second thing the Tokyo committee made clear was its seriousness about sustainability. This was nothing new to Olympic organizers – since the Sydney Games in 2000 officials had put in place measures designed to offset the undeniable impact of being a host city – but Tokyo had a few new measures in mind. They had hired the architect Kengo Kuma, known for his work which sought to live in balance with its environment, to design the national stadium at the heart of the Games. They were also committed to making the medals not only from recycled materials, but also from recycled cell phones.

Athletes on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics will wear items from the Medal Stand collection.Courtesy of Nike

It was just music to the ears of the Nike team. They had previously tried to design Olympic clothing with a similar ecological bent, such as the running jersey for the Sydney 2000 Games which was made from recycled bottles, but the intention and execution did not always match. “It didn’t look great, it didn’t feel right,” Hoke said, thinking back to that jersey. But now? With a handful of Olympiads and two decades of scientific innovation and design to their credit? Tokyo would give them a chance to balance performance and principle.

The resulting shoes and clothing, which Nike unveiled last year, just months before the Covid-19 pandemic postponed the 2020 Games until the summer of 2021 — is looking to do just that. It is technically considered to be what Hoke calls “the atomic level,” using a computer design to provide a second-skin fit or breathable flows, depending on the specific needs of the sport. It also represents the company’s biggest demonstration to date that sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean sacrifice – aesthetic, athletic or otherwise.

Right now, of course, we know that those 2016 Tokyo weather hazard meetings have already been confirmed. The test events in August 2019 encountered temperatures so high that rowers suffered from heat exhaustion and triathletes did less well. The Olympic Committee responded by moving this year’s marathon 500 miles north of Sapporo in hopes of a less brutal climate.

Heat is a particular devil for athletics; conditions on the track (and, uh, on the ground) can be over 20 degrees Fahrenheit above room temperature. Nike clothing for the category seeks to exorcise this demon with a new material he calls Aeroswift, a micro-ribbed version of his popular Dri-Fit technology. It’s like an incredibly fine and narrow corduroy. Except that the ridges of these cords serve two functions: to create a confusing effect that moves air along the skin under the fabric, and to give the fabric an almost lenticular two-tone appearance that can make it look like it’s twinkling when the athlete is in motion.

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