When the U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team overpowered its competition to defend the gold medal in the team all-around competition at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio they were certainly dressed for the success. Their patriotic leotards radiated with 4,000 white and red Swarovski crystals.
Teammates Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian beamed with confidence, thanks to GK Elite, the official outfitter of the U.S. national team.
Kelly McKeown, executive vice president at GK Elite, told USA Today how her company designed the leotards to deliver the maximum impact for a world stage. GK worked with U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach Martha Koroly to make sure they were creating a "wow" moment for the athletes.
"Marta has said it many times: 'It has to be like a prom dress.' She wants them to walk out and look regal, and unique and exquisite and dynamic. She’s not interested in having something very plain. She wants it to be their day out there."
Each athlete was outfitted with 12 practice leotards at $60 to $200 each, and eight competition leotards priced from $700 to $1,200, depending on the number of crystals used in the design. A U.S. female gymnast's Olympic wardrobe can cost upward of $12,000.
"They prepared their whole lives to be out there, in the biggest arena in the entire world," McKeown said. "You have to feel beautiful. It feeds into how you feel when you walk out there. It's a combination of morale boost and confidence and everything they are trying to achieve."
The stunning leotards seemed to have a light source of their own. Joked McKeown, "People keep asking me, 'So where do you hide the battery packs? Because it looks like they are glowing.' I laugh because it’s all the fastening of the crystal."
In Olympics past, the task of affixing crystals to a leotard was an expensive, manual task. The leotard worn by American Nastia Liukin in Beijing eight years ago, for example, featured 184 crystals that were mostly hand-placed.
Crystal-application technology has come a long way since then, McKeown reported. GK Elite now has specialized bejeweling equipment that can robotically place a variety of crystal colors in a infinite range of designs.
Credit: Image by Agência Brasil Fotografias [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons