Germany’s gymnasts body-covering unitards spark conversation about a culture change in the sport

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 10:50 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Team USA gymnasts are moving onto the Olympic team finals, but during Sunday night’s competition, another country’s team made a statement spectators could not ignore.

While Germany’s women’s gymnastics team did not qualify for finals, their uniform choice is sparking conversation. Instead of traditional leotards that end at the hips, the team sported full unitards. The move did not break any rules, but it is not traditionally done.

Long-time competitive gymnast, Sarah Babler, watched on TV, saying she recognizes a cultural shift playing out.

“It’s a sport where you’re literally judged on how you look,” she said.

The 28-year-old member of the University of Wisconsin’s club gymnastics team has competed on the balance beam and floor exercise for 18 years.

“That’s their job, the women at the Olympics- that’s their job to do gymnastics,” she said. “They just want to wear something that let’s their gymnastics shine.”

UW Madison Professor and Director of Money, Relationships and Equality Initiative Christin Whelan, researches these kinds of societal trends.

“Every job has a uniform, but when you are an athlete, what you want to be able to do is be skilled, be strong, be powerful,” Whelan said.

Whelan said the move challenges tradition.

“I don’t think it’s about people telling these athletes what to wear,” she said. “It should be about the team choosing how they are going to perform best.”

For Babler, the unconventional uniforms are a step in the right direction, and push back against sexualization of women athletes.

“It is change, and what gymnastics desperately needs is a cultural shift,” she said.

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