Sticking the Landing: The Definitive Ranking of the USA’s Olympic Gymnastics Leotards

Summer Olympics Rio

The Summer Olympics (the empirically better Olympics–sorry, biathlon) is just around the corner. There’s plenty of talk about the controversy, doping, athletic prowess, and super bacteria out there but I want to focus on my favourite part of the games: the costumes and hair. You know, sports stuff. Specifically, let’s take a close look at the USA’s Olympic Gymnastics leotards.

Shannon Miller
Shannon Miller nailing a beam routine all while counter balancing a yard of fabric on the back of her head.

The primary purpose of a gymnastics leotard is to allow the wearer to perform superhuman stunts and acrobatics, but they also serve a second important function—identification on a national stage. It’s the job of the uniform to quickly communicate who the athlete is and what country they are from. The best uniforms are recognizable, usually through the country’s flag pattern or national colours, and they also have some sort of visual interest, like foil or crystals. For hair, you really want it to be plastered down with a lot of barrettes and maybe that gel stuff that synchronized swimmers use. That’s really the classic gymnastics look, and I won’t settle for anything less. Since the reign of the Magnificent Seven in 1996 there have been a wide variety of team USA leotards, and I think it’s only appropriate to rate them now. I will be marking them on a super official and clearly objective 10-point scale, with 7 points available for excellence in leotard design and 3 points available for best gymnastics hair.

Olympics Gymnastics 2012 USA's Olympic Gymnastics
The 1 is for 1 ugly leotard.

2012 London

Leotard Score: 1/7

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. This is the most recent set of uniforms, and unfortunately they are the worst of the bunch. It is the second Olympics in a row that they went for a full red leotard with a bit of an accent, and that is a big mistake. Red again? This is ridiculous. You can make this kind of mistake once, and maybe I’ll just forget, but a second time and I will go Bela Karolyi on your ass. Poor showing. The one point is for upgrading to literal crystals. Why couldn’t this have been your team uniform? It was used in individual competition, and is SO much better!

Hair score .25/3

The hair styling this year also had a poor showing, with not a poofy bang to be seen! USA, you disappoint me. Thank goodness for Gabby Douglas’ barrettes or this would have been a zero.

Overall Score: 1.25/10

2008 Olympic Gymnastics USA's Olympic Gymnastics2008 Beijing

Leotard Score: 3/7

What are these fire monstrosities? Apparently they just discovered some huge discount on red Mystique (the shiny spandex that makes up most professional level leotards these days) and just ran with it. I am disappointed at the lack of flags or American ephemera, but I respect that they are trying something new (even if they failed so completely). Also, don’t choose solid red outfits for a group of people, ever. Very few people look good in so much red, and everyone suffers.

Hair Score: .4/3

The rest of the team should thank Shawn Johnson for having a bow in her hair and bringing their collective hair score up from a bagel. Overall, this is a weak showing.

Overall Score: 3.4/10

2004 Olympics Gymnastics USA's Olympic Gymnastics2004 Athens

Leotard Score: 3.6/7

I am only giving this year’s leotard points based on the subtle tributes to the American flag that are kind of hidden. There are some red stripes on the shoulder obstructed by their medals in this photo. I respect the classic look, and you definitely know this is the American team, so that’s worth something. This is the time for literal flags on your outfit, and anything else is a waste of my time. That being said, these are pretty boring, I’d like a little more visual interest.

Hair Score: 1.2/3

It’s hard to judge the hair based on the unfortunate laurels given out to all medalling Olympians, but from here it looks pretty plastered down, so points are awarded there.

Overall Score: 4.8/10

2000 Olympics Gymnastics USA's Olympic Gymnastics2000 Sydney

Leotard Score: 5.8/7

These leotards are pretty plain, but I like them. The little stripes across the chest in foil add a little pizzazz, so I’m awarding a decently high grade. I have taken a point off because there are basically no pictures of the team in these leotards on the internet. This might be because the 2000 team didn’t win a medal during the games. They were awarded bronze 10 years later after China was disqualified and they took a cute photo, but that leaves us without a strong understanding of the team aesthetic.

Hair Score: DNF (Did not finish)

Because of the general lack of photos, I have seen no hair plastered down with barrettes, and that is what I want. That being said Dominique Dawes’ hair is decent here. If I had to award points, it would be .4/3, but this is my made up ranking system, and I don’t have to, so no points for you, 2000s hair!

Overall Score: 5.8/7

1996 Olympics Gymnastics USA's Olympic Gymnastics1996 Atlanta

Leotard Score: 7/7

Ending on the highest of notes, the classic American flag print is recognizable, but not overbearing. It just says American Gymnastics Dynasty, and doesn’t belabour the point. I appreciate the simplicity of the design so much. Well done ladies, well done.

Hair Score: 3/3

Here are the badass ladies of the Magnificent Seven in ENORMOUS scrunchies! There is no other score they could get. The bangs and a handful of barrettes per girl are absolute perfection. It’s too good. Li’l Kerri Strug with her floppy short hair doing her own thing is the perfect accent to the ensemble.

Overall Score: 10/10

2016 Rio

We have seen a little sneak peak of the team uniforms, and they’re not bad. They have gone back to outfits that feature a little bit of white and blue, which helps a lot. They also look way less shiny, which is nice, as I think all of our retinas can use a bit of a break. I’m reserving a full score until I can see these puppies in action. The same goes for the hair score. Ladies, I implore you: bring a stronger bang game, and you have the opportunity to recapture the magic of the Magnificent Seven. This is how you win medals, people.




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