Nike's new Team USA Olympic track uniform for women slammed as sexist by athletes: 'A costume born of patriarchal forces'

US' athlete Sha'Carri Richardson attends a Nike event, in Paris, on April 11, 2024. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Sha'Carri Richardson models in Paris Nike event on April 11. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)

Nike on Thursday shared a sneak peek of its track and field uniforms for the 2024 Paris Olympics which have been the talk of social media — but maybe not for the reasons Nike wants.

For Team USA’s male team members, it was a compression tank top and mid-thigh shorts — a standard look that has pretty much been around since 1896. But it was one of the options for the women on Team USA that sparked backlash from social media users, as well as former and current Olympic athletes.

The women’s bodysuit is cut notably high on the hip. The New York Times described it as “like a sporty version of a 1980s workout leotard.”

Sha'Carri Richardson, who had qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics, modeled the unitard with a pair of compression shorts during the Nike Air Innovation Summit in Paris. Athletes will be able to opt for the compression shorts Richardson wore during the preview or a tank top and bikini bottoms, which Olympian Anna Cockrell also modeled at the Paris event. Reportedly, there are even more looks, but they will not be revealed until the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in New York on April 15.

But Citius Mag, an outlet dedicated to track and field news, shared a “first look” photo of Team USA’s uniforms on mannequins on social media, igniting the debate about women athletes’ uniforms.

In a comment on Citius Mag’s Instagram post, Olympic hurdler Queen Harrison Claye joked that the European Wax Center should sponsor the team this season due to the high cut. Colleen Quigley, who ran in the 2016 Summer Olympics, said, “I mean I still wanna make the team but…”

Katelyn Hutchison, a three-time NCAA All-American track and field athlete at the University of Kentucky, wrote, “April fools was 10 days ago.”

Jaleen Roberts, a two-time Paralympic silver medalist, commented, “This mannequin is standing still and everything’s showing… imagine MID FLIGHT.”

Lauren Fleshman, a former professional track and field athlete, addressed the uniform controversy on Instagram: “This is a costume born of patriarchal forces that are no longer welcome or needed to get eyes on women’s sports.”

After retiring in 2016, Fleshman has been open about her feelings regarding female athletes and how they’re treated. In a 2023 essay for Time magazine she wrote, “If women and girls were placed in sporting environments built around the norms of female puberty and female improvement trajectories, if their bodies were respected and encouraged to develop in their own time, outcomes for women would be entirely different.”

Katie Moon, a pole vaulter who participated in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, posted photos of her wearing the unitard in response to an X user who said women track and field athletes couldn’t do anything in the uniform.

“If this can help put women’s minds at ease a bit…I tried on the same style today and didn’t feel worried about…things…popping out,” Moon wrote. “I think it’s just the mannequin. This felt like the last kit just a slightly higher cut. I know every body is different tho.”

As of reporting, Nike has not made a statement in reaction to the backlash.

The new Team USA unitard contributes to a larger conversation that’s been happening about women’s sports. The women’s NCAA championship basketball game on April 7 was the first time a women’s team pulled a larger audience than the men’s. But women athletes are still fighting for proper uniforms — whether it’s protesting sexist uniform rules or highlighting the conversation around period anxiety — there’s a growing movement of women athletes setting boundaries when it comes to attire and how much of their bodies they show.