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Official Apparel Russia: Olympians Make Do With Less-Than-Flashy Uniforms

Fans of Russia cheer at the opening of the Sports House, set up to support the Russian delegation of the 2018 Winter Olympics, in Gangneung, South Korea, on February 9.
Fans of Russia cheer at the opening of the Sports House, set up to support the Russian delegation of the 2018 Winter Olympics, in Gangneung, South Korea, on February 9.

The Winter Olympics are under way, with a typically lavish, choreographed opening ceremony that puts the world's athletes -- and their fashion designs -- on the global stage.

While the shirtless flag-bearer for the island nation of Tonga may have set many tongues wagging, plenty of attention was focused on Russia's competitors. Due to the still-evolving doping scandal, those athletes who were allowed to compete in Pyeongchang were marching under the Olympic five-ring flag, not under the Russian one.

Authorities came up with the less-than-mellifluous label "Olympic Athletes From Russia" (OAR) for those Russians allowed to compete. That in turn has sparked a stream of suggestions from commentators, and even some athletes themselves, about what exactly an OAR competitor should or will wear through the games.

Official Apparel Russia?

At the opening ceremony on February 9, the Russians wore decidedly subdued garb: gray parkas, white scarves, blue pants and what appeared to be gray high-top sneakers or boots. The delegation was led by a Korean representative, carrying not the Russian flag, but the Olympic flag, as dictated by Olympic organizers.

The design was conceived by ZASPORT, which it identified as the official clothing supplier for the Russian team. According to the news agency TASS, company director Anastasia Zadorina said it had been approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"It would be fair to say that the uniforms won't win any awards for flair," one commentator for ESPN noted.

By contrast, at the Winter Olympics four years ago, held in the Russian resort city of Sochi, athletes marched into the stadium wearing the Russian tricolor, fur-lined jackets, and waving Russian flags, with bobsledder Aleksandr Zubkov proudly brandishing the flag.

Zubkov, it should be noted, was banned from the Pyeongchang games after investigators determined he had violating anti-doping rules.

Take That, IOC!

One Moscow design studio, DDVB, has capitalized on the general Russian outrage over the athlete bans by coming up with its own line of clothing and apparel.

A line of sleeveless, white hoodie shirts play on the acronym OAR, with the English words "Sports is OAR doping" and "God is OAR doping." A red winter cap has the words "OARRRR" as if someone was yelling or groaning, as does a T-shirt that has a print of a bear growling on the front. A red rucksack has the words "Red OARMY."

"No flag, no hymn, no national dress! I simply can't be indifferent. In a situation where it seems like there's nothing to do, there is always something that can be done," DDVB director Dmitry Pyoryshkov said in a statement on its website. "This project is our answer to the unjust decision of the IOC. For all those who aren't indifferent, our team has worked up a collection of prints which strictly conform to the political demands, and bolster the spirits of Russia's fans and athletes at the 2018 games."

Forget Jerseys. What About Players?

Until recently, Olympic men's ice hockey had bigger things to worry about than what its players would be wearing: the question was whether Russian hockey players would participate. At one point, the Russian professional hockey league, the KHL, had threatened to keep all its player out of the games, in solidarity with other athletes barred by organizers.

However, Russia will in fact be fielding a formidable team, including stalwarts like center Pavel Datsyuk. That, plus the fact that the North American NHL has blocked many of its players from participating, means the Russian team is a strong contender for gold.

As for what they will be wearing, a post to Twitter by Igor Eronko, hockey writer for the Russian newspaper Sport Express, seemed to suggest the jerseys would be legitimate, even if they have to bear the words "Olympic Athlete From Russia" on them.

Improvised Protest

The decision barring many Russian athletes came in December, mere weeks before the games began. As a result, many had to improvise, and make do with makeshift apparel and gear. Some had to put electrical tape over the word "Russia" on their official luggage.

Others, though, made do, judging by the simple white, collared shirt that Russian curlers wore in the opening rounds of the mixed curling competition.

Some Russian athletes have reportedly found sartorial ways to protest the Olympic organizers' decision.

Bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeyeva told the Associated Press she was using an old black race suit to train, with several logos taped over to hide them. Underneath, she wore a white T-shirt that said, "I don't do doping."

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