In the taxonomy of events, there are small events, medium-sized events, big events, sports events, the Super Bowl, and then there is Team Canada unveiling its new Olympic uniforms.
It did it Tuesday at a hotel downtown. You go there expecting to see some clothes. Maybe some people walking around in the clothes. If they’re feeling especially cruel, someone will explain the clothes, like you were all raised by nudists and clothes are strange to you.
That’s how this is supposed to go.
Instead, the first person you meet at the check-in desk hits you with, “ARE YOU EXCITED?”
No. Not since the late nineties. But thanks for asking.
Just warning you – everyone else is excited. Like, Oprah-giving-out-cars excited. And there are a lot of them.
After COVID testing, a phalanx of attractive people in athleisure drive dozens of you like cattle down a red-lit corridor where, presumably, you will discover what Soylent Green really is.
But, no, it’s a bigger, redder room. Vampires don’t have rooms this red. It’s dark and deep red. They’re pumping in some trippy music and there’s a faint echo in here.
You don’t get to say this often writing for the sports section, but this is an event best attended while high.
Before we even get to the clothes we have to do more prelims than a moon launch.
There’s a performance by a modern-dance troupe. There’s a short film projected onto the walls. There is a pair of very charged-up MCs. A couple of executives from Team Canada’s new uniform designer, Lululemon, get some time so they can go on about all of us holding hands from sea to sea to sea.
I’ve been to Pink Floyd shows that had less going on, and we haven’t even hit the headliner. Because even more hype is required. These clothes will “elevate and inspire our finest athletes.” This is “truly an incredible and transformational collection.”
How did they make these transformational clothes? Brother, they’re here to tell you that it wasn’t easy. It was so hard they needed scientists.
It took 18 months (maybe the sewing machines required nuclear upgrades). It was guided by the “science of feel” (scratchy wool – out). They took a “human-led approach” – all scientists had to swear an affidavit they are a) humans who b) wear clothes.
It involved establishing a “thermal identity” within the context of a “dynamic dressing system.”
At this point, I was prepared to rush the stage and strip the huskiest model of his God-like clothes so that I could obtain this power for myself. Why should Olympians be the only ones with thermal identities? Where’s my dynamic dressing system? I pay (some of) my taxes.
Then, finally, the reveal.
Apparently, it took Lululemon 18 months to invent parkas and stretchy pants.
The good news is that you may already own these miracle clothes. The bad news – I’m not sure how many scientists it took to make yours. Maybe none. Sorry.
The lion’s share of athlete-models, evenly split between the Olympic and Paralympic contingents, did not look inspired or elevated. Mostly, they looked a little hot.
Afterward, someone told the story of a multiply medalled Paralympian who doesn’t care about clothes but cried when he saw these ones. People clapped and cheered like they were at a politburo luncheon mixer.
It took me a while, but I figured out what a dynamic dressing system is. It’s a coat that attaches to another, larger coat through the groundbreaking use of a hook. It’s two coats instead of one coat. Because when the competition gets two times as hard, it may also be two times as cold.
I know, I know. You may need to lie down and take some deep breaths. That’s what happens when you’ve had your mind blown. If your thermal identity gets out of whack, drink some water.
Is the Lululemon gear more practical than the graffitied jean jackets, gruesome pageboys and crocheted helmets of Canadian uniforms past? Sure. But I’m not sure it’s as much fun.
It took a thriving international fashion concern like Lululemon to convince Team Canada to play it safe.
They did the practical thing: They looked at what Kanye West likes and they did that. Right down to the moon-boot sneakers and insulated bucket hats. By February maybe they’ll integrate rubber masks.
Of course, the point of this isn’t to elevate anyone. It’s to pump out fast fashion that straddles the line between cool and weird. Cool enough that people talk about it, but not so weird that you can’t sell it.
Since so few people look good in red, monetizing Canadian Olympic gear is a Sisyphean task to begin with. Also, I’m not sure how many people care that their sweatpants were made by a guy who used to work at NASA. Yet this pre-Olympic uniform reveal continues to sprawl each time out.
We’re about 100 days from Beijing 2022 and the general public doesn’t yet know the names or faces of the vast majority of Canadian athletes who will compete there. But they do know where to buy the hat.
On some level, this is a symptom of Canada’s Olympic maturity. This country is a big hitter now, especially as it applies to the Winter Games. Swaggering around with the Americas, Russias and Norways, elbowing all the other podium nerds in the Olympic hallway.
A big country needs to do big things. In some cases, bigger than they ought to be.
This must be where the swollen sense of purpose and hagiographical language come from, like our people who luge are fulfilling a holy mission for the Motherland.
So it’s not the clothes. The clothes are great. It’s the grandness with which we talk about them, and a lot of other things. What is it about the Canadian Olympic setup that makes anyone who gets near it talk like they’re in a beer commercial?
If you want to be big at the Olympics, be big where it matters – on the field of play, through the quality of your performance or the character you display while performing it.
Everywhere else, you’re just talking about making money.