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Saturday, August 02, 2008

South African Olympic kit: Made by Grandma

SA team unhappy with the Olympic kit - made by Grandma, fit for champions...

For today's weekend post, something of a humorous look at some news emerging out of the Olympic Games training camps this week, with a slightly South African flavour. I'm sure those of you in SA reading this will shake your heads in disbelief (we tend to do that down here), and those of you anywhere else will wonder how backwards it is even possible to be.

The news emerging from the SA Olympic training camp is that the kit and clothing that has been supplied to the athletes is way sub-standard. So sub-standard, in fact, that the labels and embroidery on the athletics vests says "Beljing" instead of "Beijing". It also turns out that the vests are unravelling after only a few days, that very few athletes have kit that is the correct size (a seamstress has reportedly been hired to make adjustments), and the clothing has been made of the same material that is reportedly used to make tracksuits. No ultra-light, breathable fabrics here. In the words of SA's Ruben Ramolefi:

"I expect the runners will have a tough time. The clothes will sap one's energy. I also don't know about these little holes for the arms. The farther you run, the more chafing you will suffer. I don't know why we have been given clothing of such poor quality"

The SA athletes are therefore understandably unhappy. One reported that it looks as though it was made in someone's garage, while another says it seems that "Grandma knitted it". Given the stakes here, you'd have thought that measuring and providing clothing for a group of SA's finest athletes would not be too difficult.

I don't know exactly what transpired in the lead up to Beijing, but the kit is reportedly a mix of Mizuno and a local company called Sedgards, though I'm not sure whose clothing is falling apart), but to give the athletes such poor clothing is a disgrace (incidentally, I know Sedgars kit because when I was at school, they made my hockey uniform - let's just say that the last 10 years haven't changed the quality, if reports are accurate).

Beijing's heat and SA's clothing

More worrying, however, is the impact this is likely to have on performance. In the lead-up to Beijing, we've looked at technology in sport through the Speedo LZR racer in quite a lot of detail. A similar conversation could be had for clothing for running events, though the impact is not as great. It is nevertheless crucial, in Beijing's environment, to have clothing that does allow some breathability and cooling. Our athletes do not have this luxury, which means that already slim hopes in many events are going to be non-existent unless something changes.

Further, the impact this has on the mental preparation is enormous. I believe that the biggest effect of many of the new clothing technologies you'll see in Beijing (like the Adidas Powerweb gear, and the Nike compression garments) is a placebo one - the athlete feels stronger, faster, more powerful, and that translates into better performance. Imagine you're the athlete lining in in lane 3 against Nike on your left, Adidas on your right, and your clothes feel like your grandmother made them...?

Compare this to Australia - fitted one year ago

I hate playing the comparison game to the Aussies (we tend to do this in SA as well), but I have to point out that last year in about November, the Australian Olympic Committee invited hundreds of potential Olympic athletes to a weekend camp where they were measured for clothing IF they made the Olympic team almost a year later. These athletes also had their eyesight tested so that contact lenses could be ordered for them.

Of the measured athletes, perhaps only 60% of them actually made the team, but those who were picked could then have the right sized clothing ordered, and you know it is high quality equipment. Now, why do we, in South Africa, struggle so much to put clothes on our elite athletes? And more to the point, if you can't even put a decent vest together for the Olympics, then how can you hope to actually get the preparation of the athlete right for the competition? Imagine what the training and preparation will reveal - it's not only the clothing that is unravelling at the seams...

If anyone has a similar story from their own Olympic teams, do let us know!



Anonymous said...

I was on the german olympic team for the last games and its just the same disaster. The stuff doesnt fit and its definitely NOT the latest top development you find in the Adidas store next door. Having checked other countries that are Adidas equipped, too, I could not see the same problem, some of them have very nice and high quality Adidas clothes. So why not Germany ? Adidas is/was a German Company, after all?! The solution is the following: Aparently, the countries have to buy parts of the stuff at the supplier (Adidas) and therefore try to save money. Thats why not all the countries have the same quality and type of equipment...
Maybe SA was just as thrifty on money as Germany ;-)

Anonymous said...

Never expected to see this at the Olympic level! This is appalling!

I can't imagine how an elite athlete must feel after dedicating his better part of his life to a sport to have his dreams come true by making the Olympics, then having to line-up in Granma's knitwear.

Even if the difference is placebo, it surely wrecks the confidence of the athlete.

From my own experience (at nowhere near the same level), my province was duped for kit at last year's National Championships for triathlon suits in much the same way. I won't mention the manufacturing company's name, but we were dolled out the questionable kit the night before upon arrival in a similar serving style to a boarding house lunchline. It would have helped if the company had any successful experience in making tri kit before, but I definitely do know the feeling of lining up against athletes that are sporting the technologically advanced superslick compression performance sportsgear wearing what could only be described as a fuller-bodied chafing version of Borat's mankini... and it's a confidence killer!

Jamie said...

Hi Ross

Seeing as SASCOC has failed to raise any money for the support of the team its not surprising that the kit is rubbish. No sponsors will touch the Olympic Team for fear of being associated with a disaster

There are many horror stories coming out of the team. Like having to pay own flights if they wanted to travel on different days to the "official" date as well as training camps in Korea being organised without the specilist equipment needed by some athetes/sporting codes.

I have just come back from a international tour and collected some our kit from the supplier before I left. He was saying that he gets told who he has to buy/order the kit from and cannot deviate from that or he will loose his deal. He desperately wants to change to better suppliers but his hands are tied by SASCOC/Sport & rec.

It really comes down to the fact that the gravy train hasent left the station let alone reached "Beiljing"

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Jamie

Yeah, it's a shame. I don't know what SASCOC is set up to do - they've done little since their inception to deliver on what I understood their objectives were. Even being a travel agent seems beyond them, to be honest...

My experience is that they just haven't brought the right people in, I don't know why. But every four years, when SA sport goes through a "crisis" (as will happen in a few weeks' time after the blow-out in Beiljing), they simply reshuffle the pack, and the same people end up in different positions.

It's re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Revolution is not a word in the vocabulary. And the most frustrating thing of all is that when there is an opportunity to effect change (I was involved in a proposal for a 12 year plan for SA sport), we got told "We're doing it all already". Well, in that case, keep doing it, and good luck in the game you're playing.

Any odds on a medal-less Games? Probably 1 or 2, but none gold...

Anonymous said...

Let's just say it's the "Mushini wami" effect. Ya the kit looks atrocious. no wonder why their athletes missing out on the medals