Uni Watch: Cool gear for 2014 Games

At least the Team USA podium uniforms are a classy silver even if they do look space-age. Courtesy of Nike

The aesthetics of the Olympics are always a tricky proposition. For starters, there's the metallurgy hierarchy: Gold over silver, really? Come on, anyone with taste knows gold is tacky, silver is classy.

And then there's the issue of uniforms. Unlike, say, an NFL or MLB uniform, which is designed to establish a consistent look over a period of years or even decades, an Olympics uniform will typically be seen for only a few days, which creates a different set of design challenges and often leads to flashier designs intended to create bigger visual impact. Case in point: Ralph Lauren has just unveiled Team USA's outfits for the opening ceremonies in Sochi, and they're not exactly subtle.

But there's more to the Olympics than the opening ceremonies, of course. With the Sochi games fast approaching, here's a list of uni-related things to watch for:

1. The Norwegians Are At It Again: As you might recall, the Norwegian curling team caused a sensation at the 2010 Vancouver Games with its seriously loud pants. Four years later, the Norwegians have outdone themselves (further info here). And before you dismiss the whole thing as a joke, keep in mind that the Norwegians won the silver medal in 2010.

2. Collar My World: You know those annoying strips of reinforced fabric you see on the collars of Nike's football jerseys? Nike has come up with something similar for many of the collars of the Olympic hockey jerseys. The bad news is that it looks synthetic and template-y; the good news is that it sort of mimics the look of the classic lace-up collar, which is more than we can say for the detailing on the football collars.

3. Patchwork: Possibly the best accessories of the entire Games will be worn by members of the Canadian ski team, who'll be able to choose from an interchangeable series of very cool shoulder patches -- including one featuring a moose and another featuring a Mountie's cap!

4. Costume or Uniform?: Everyone likes to oooh and ahh over the women's figure skating costumes, but here's a question to ponder: Why can't the figure skaters wear a uniform like everyone else? You know, just a basic team design that everyone from the same country wears. The skaters will tell you that eliminating the costumes would detract from the aesthetics and artistic interpretation of their performances, but that seems like a weak argument. If you stripped away all the rhinestones and glitter and glitz, wouldn't that actually put more emphasis on the skating itself? Something to think about.

5. And Speaking of Figure Skating: For decades figure skaters tucked their stockings or tights into their skates. But over the past decade or so, more and more of the skaters have been wearing their tights over their skates, which has created a disconcerting club-foot effect. At this month's U.S. Figure Skating Championships, however, most of the competitors had gone back to the old style. A U.S. Figure Skating spokesperson says the change isn't due to any new regulations -- just shifting fashions. Here's hoping all the skaters at Sochi follow suit.

6. We the People ... Have No Sway with the IOC: U.S. women's hockey goalie Jessie Vetter had planned to wear the famous "We the People" inscription from the U.S. Constitution's preamble on the back plate of her mask. But that ran afoul of the International Olympic Committee's rule banning any display of "political, religious, or racial propaganda," so Vetter had to change the design.

7. Head Games: If you think hockey goalie masks have some far-out paint jobs these days, check out some of the helmet designs for the Canadian skeleton team. Very cool stuff.

8. Built for Speed: Every Olympics, it seems, there's one piece of performance attire that generates a lot of buzz. At the 2000 Sydney Games, it was Cathy Freeman's Swift suit; in 2008 in Beijing, it was Speedo's LZR Racer swimsuit. For Sochi, the chatter is centering around Under Armour's new suit for the U.S. speed skating team, which was produced in conjunction with the aerospace company Lockheed Martin. While past speed skating suits have stressed smoothness, this one is studded with little bumps, which supposedly create a more aerodynamic effect, much like a golf ball's dimples. Will this suit rewrite the speed skating record book? We'll all find out soon enough. (For more info on the development of this suit, look here.)

9. And Speaking of Speed Skating: Look closely and you'll see that many of the speed skaters don't wear socks because they prefer to have nothing between their feet and their skates.

10. Winner's Circle: Did you know there's a special outfit that U.S. Olympians will wear when standing on the medal podium? It's true -- and it features a jacket that looks like something an astronaut would wear. Was this surplus gear from the production of "Gravity" or what?

Honorable Mention: The triple-stripe branding of adidas can get tiresome, but you have to admit it looks pretty slick on a pair of luge shoes.

That's enough for now. We'll have additional Uni Watch coverage as the Games unfold.

Paul Lukas encourages all Olympic athletes to eschew gold and go for the silver! If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.