Battle of the Roots U.S. berets
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

SALT LAKE CITY -- Midway through the men's figure skating final Thursday night, the Canadian Olympic Association announced it would hold a press conference at 9:30, which was the exact time Alexei Yagudin was scheduled to begin his routine.

The Canadians did not say what the press conference was about, but there could be only one announcement important enough to justify holding one at that awkward time: The Roots store had just received a new shipment of berets.

Moments later though, the Canadians canceled the press conference. Evidently, the Roots store had just sold out the new shipment.

For the uninformed -- which until last week included most of the United States -- Roots is a Canadian sportswear store that is sort of a combination of Banana Republic and Champion. It also has designed and supplied the Canadian team's official clothing for the past couple of Olympics, and its red "poor-boy" caps were the hit of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. (The Roots logo caused a slightly embarrassing situation two years later at the Sydney Olympics, however, because "roots" also happens to be Aussie slang for sexual intercourse. The Australians must think Canada has some very interesting athletic competitions.)

Roots berets
Some teens model their new Roots USA berets after waiting 4½ hours in line to purchase them Thursday morning.
But while the Canadian uniforms have been ultra chic, the U.S. uniform has usually been some embarrassing cowboy motif that made it look as if our entire team chews tobacco, lives in Wyoming and does nothing but watch the home shopping channels and listen to Billy Ray Cyrus.

No more, however. Now Roots is supplying the U.S. Olympians, as well, and Americans no longer walk around the Olympics as the worst-dressed team (that honor now goes to the Italians, who look as if they stopped at Wal-Mart on the way to the stadium). And when the U.S. team walked into the opening ceremonies wearing those blue berets, the caps immediately became the most coveted piece of athletic gear since Brandi Chastain's sports bra.

As an Olympic veteran, I saw this fashion craze coming, so my first stop the morning after the opening ceremonies was the Roots USA store. Barely a dozen hours had passed since the opening ceremonies and already the store was packed with shoppers desperate for U.S. gear. There was no room to browse. You walked in the door and immediately got in line and picked out what you wanted while the line snaked around the store to the cash register. It was like being at the Department of Motor Vehicles, only the line moved slower and cost you about $20 every two steps.

George Bush and U.S. team
Not everyone is catching on to the Roots beret craze.
I bought five berets and I should have bought more because they sold out that day. Now everyone wants one. When I last checked eBay, one beret was going for $104. Someone walked up to a friend of mine and offered $150 for hers. And she turned them down!

The Roots store received a new shipment of berets Thursday morning, and people began lining up at 4 a.m. for the opportunity to buy one -- and only one -- beret apiece. Eventually hundreds of people queued up, forming the longest lines this side of Pirates of the Caribbean and Krispy Kreme. The lines were so long that Russian women stepped into them simply out of habit, figuring there must be loaves of moldy bread at the end.

Most everyone went home disappointed. Only 150 berets were available. And no bread.

Suckers. I've got my berets and that's all I care about. And don't bother pestering me with any hard luck stories about how you desperately need one for a cancer-stricken parent, who wants to wear it during chemo. Because that's just not good enough.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Over the next two weeks, he'll be in Salt Lake City, uncovering the wild and wacky side of the Winter Olympic Games for Page 2.





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