FasterSkier would like to thank Fischer Sport USA, Madshus USA, Concept2, Boulder Nordic Sport, and Swix Sport US for their generous support, which made this coverage possible.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — This time last week, we brought you the basics of Olympic cross-country and biathlon cheat sheet, and not long after, we received a comment from a reader asking for a uniform cheat sheet. We, too, found ourselves sometimes befuddled. During Saturday’s skiathlon, this reporter found himself looking for the emblematic stars on the U.S. Ski Team’s new unis. There were stars, think Diggins and Kalla, just no obvious stellar-like branding on the USST suits.
So for you and for us, here’s a basic cross-country race suit cheat sheet. Disclaimer: we do nordic here at FasterSkier. Which is saying fashion and nordic are often mutually exclusive. Sometimes we do fashion (right FBD?), but not really. For more fashion expertise here’s a site that popped up when googling “most famous New York fashion writer”. Back to race suits.
Sweden: Out with the all-whites and in with the mostly royal-blue tights. The blue is emphasized on the thighs and blends into yellow knee-highlights, which in turn blends into white on the lower leg. Blue, yellow, white is all Sweden. Here’s Sweden’s own Charlotte Kalla racing to second in Thursday’s 10 k skate.
Sweden’s biathlon race suits epitomize reductionism. In other words — K.I.S.S. — as in, keep it simple, Sweden. Our wish is their command. Two words to help identify Sweden on the biathlon range or tracks. Canary yellow. Thank you Sweden.
Finland: Every day is a new day. A positive outlook works wonders in the tough-to-win sport of World Cup skiing. Finland’s Krista Pärmäkoski is positive and owning it in Finland’s lycra whites. Yes, there’s navy blue on the forearms and just below the patella, but if you can kill in mostly white, you can kill on the ski course. That’s evidenced by Pärmäkoski’s arm raise: positive vibes and she’s in for the bronze. (Note: if Pärmäkoski is skiing away from you, the Finland suits emphasize blue on the backside.
You’ll have to look past Canada’s Rosanna Crawford and zero in on Finland’s Mari Laukkanen in bib 22 to burn the Finn’s biathlon uniform into the synapses. Finland’s biathlon unis do the flag proud. It’s a zippy look that takes the essentials into play: blue and white. Certainly less white and more blue than their cross-country brethren. For the feisty Finns — they dealt with invading Soviets in winter of 1939 — we say it works.
France: We’re sticking with countries that begin with the letter F. C’est la vie. But we’ll go a little crazy and start with France’s biathlon garb. Why is that? Because of Martin Fourcade — the French force of biathlon. He shoots like a veritable post-doc in Jedi-studies and skis like he could crush the 15 k skate on the cross-country World Cup. France’s biathlon suits get jazzy in a sky blue kind of way on the lower leg. And just when you get complacent with all the blue tones, the right arm gets proud in red. You should get to know this suit, Fourcade is likely to rule these Games; he’s already won the men’s 10 k pursuit.
France also gets props for keeping it easy on spectators and viewers. If you’ve studied Fourcade’s race suit already, you’re all set. In the image below, France’s Jean-Marc Gaillard (9) proves our point. Biathlon or cross-country, the suits are the same.
Norway: It’s Norway after all. Nothing too drastic here, and certainly we’re imagining athletes will have several colors schemes to choose from at a later date. For now, the new kind of looks like the old. Which when consulting fashion guides, retro can be cool — think the resurgence of L.L. Bean’s duck boots or those Greg-Lemond-era Oakleys that Harvey has rocked.
OK, the cross-country suits. Here’s Norway’s race wear as worn by Heidi Weng (bib 1) and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (bib 2) during Saturday’s skiathlon. The easy thing about trying to identify the Norwegians in a deep field cross-country scrum: look towards the sharp end of the race. Most often in the lead pack you’ll see a predominately red-suited athlete pushing the pace. Yeah, that’s probably Norway. (That said, deference to Canada’s Harvey, we want to get our red suits straight. We’ll get to the maple leaf in a bit, but in the case of Canada just think a different shade of red, because Harvey is a front-pack skier. Big respect for Harvey in red.)
Here’s a shot of Norway’s biathlon suit. Again, Norway has gone with reliable themes. Yet in this case, pin striping rules. There’s the red, the deep blue, and the white. The striping certainly gives it a more formal look as if to say “we’re here to shoot clean”.
Canada: Why not? Let’s break down Canada’s race gear next. Nothing too crazy here on the XC side from our good friends up north that brought us Bob and Doug McKenzie and sort of Kenny G. (Officially, Kenny G. is American; he was born in Seattle. But his mom is from Saskatchewan. A loose connection, but only separated by one degree. And Seattle is super close to Vancouver.) Like the Norwegians’ cross-country race suit, this is a mostly red affair. But it rocks perhaps the most identifiable flora icon on the planet: the maple leaf. In our opinion, this suit is an instant classic. Maple-leaf patterns run down the length of the arms. Nothing too gaudy here. No fluorescent yellow, no overdoing it with the “Canada-ness” of it all. And there’s just the right amount of white lycra highlights to keep it sleek looking. If you’re looking to impress on the Olympic trails but be simultaneously understated, look no further than Canada. Here’s Alex Harvey racing to seventh, his best individual result in his third Olympics, in Friday’s 15 k skate:
Under the bright lights of the Alpensia biathlon venue, Biathlon Canada got a wee bit friskier. Down the right arm you’ll note … wait for it … white maple leaves of varying sizes. Little known fact, at least to FS, “an infusion” of maple-tree bark can be used to treat cramps and dysentery. Any chance that infusion works on norovirus? Just asking.
Lots of digressions here. But this is for certain and maybe it’s a trickle-down effect of honoring the most beautiful autumn tree on the planet. Across the board, XC or biathlon, Canadian athletes are a delight to chat with. You parent-folk raise them well up north.
The lower half of Canada’s biathlon unis are trending more towards what we have seen in the recent Canadian lycra past: bigger and badder maple leafs. A big white maple icon sits on the lower right leg, with a smaller slightly more delicate yet distinguished maple icon on the upper left thigh. There you have it. When in doubt, channel the red suit and the maple leaf and you’ll know it’s Canada at any of the nordic venues.
U.S.A.: Jingoism = “extreme patriotism, especially in the form of aggressive or warlike foreign policy.” We are not jingoistic here at FasterSkier. Read Saturday’s skiathlon report and it’s clear we’re not jingoistic. The day’s winner Kalla — from Sweden — is given plenty of coverage. Yeah, Jessie Diggins killed, but Kalla was a force, too.
So the good ole’ red-white-and-blue (r-w-b). That’s pretty much still the theme. Visually speaking, we think it’s a nice blend of the r-w-b trifecta. It’s mostly blue. And a cool blue at that. Again coolness reigns with the white downward slanting stripes running from the lower thigh to below the knee. Those stripes scream, “Scoreboard!” And the red on the arms? Awesome. And if you’re like this reporter looking around in the pack for the U.S. skiers, it helps to read the bold print on the right upper arm. Read: U.S.A.
Now to US Biathlon. For starters, the national governing body of biathlon in the U.S. is … US Biathlon. A totally different sporting body than U.S. Ski and Snowboard. And the uniforms on the biathlon side make that clear. There’s little cross-pollination like we see with the Canadian suits.
For awhile, U.S. Biathlon raced in suits with a distinct mix of blue and red. If you can harken back to elementary school art class, or if you’re in elementary school now, you’d have to pass this basic test to move onto more complex colors.
Test: How do you make purple. Yes! Mix red and blue together.
The older U.S. biathlon uniforms had a distinct purple hue on the bottom-half. The top was a tasteful strawberry red called into action by iconic Adidas striping down the arms. That purple hue is no longer. Get rid of that in your mind’s eye. We’re not even posting a photo of that older race suit. It’s so not now.
Want to know where Susan Dunklee or Lowell Bailey are? Look for uniforms that harness the “blue blazer” in all of us. First let’s zoom in. (See photo below). We note here that it’s not simply a solid-blue pattern. The hat, shoulders and upper torso host a maze of small deep blue “three-stripe” hash marks printed over a lighter bluebird blue. Since those appear on several team’s 2018 Olympic suits (like Sweden, Germany, and the Olympic Athletes from Russia), all of which were made by Adidas, we’re guessing it’s a nod to their uniform supplier? (You know, with the “threes” theme.) Nonetheless, the upper is mostly covered by the bib. And from a distance, as we zoom out, it simply looks blue. But before we do that, here’s Clare Egan — total badass polyglot; she speaks Korean — during the women’s sprint here in PyeongChang.
Now for the zoom out. This shot is great for many reasons, so a shoutout to FlyingPointRoad guru Steve Fuller. Since we are talking colors here, let’s just continue the shout out to Steve. This photo kills because a Swedish skier follows Tim Burke in a canary yellow race suit. Blue and yellow are primary colors. The blue-Burke here stands out more as he’s contrasted by the yellow-Swede. Intentional or not Steve, well done.
Let’s focus on Tim Burke’s legs. That’s a solid royal blue, right? A basic blue, but a royal blue. There’s just no damn distractions from the business at hand here. Maybe the small USA on the left calf area is a nod to those fans still time-capsuled with Lake Placid’s 1980 gold-medal hockey team and the venerable announcer Al Michaels. That USA on the leg isn’t really yelling U.S.A!!! U.S.A!!! It’s sort of a kinder and gentler u.s.a. (no caps intentional). Like a whisper, saying we come in peace even though we’re charging hard with rifles on our backs. Back to the point. No distractions. #businesstime.
USA = basically blue. Look for the blue. That’s the U.S. biathlon team.
Other notable suits:
Switzerland: From a country we all associate with Swiss-Army-Knife red, we get thrown a change up. It took us all a few seasons to get accquainted with the race-lycra formal wear donned by the Swiss cross-country team. Cross-country World Cups aren’t exactly formal occasions, but the tuxedo black suits the Swiss have worn for a few years now — a look you’d seek if you were on the race equivalent of a Georgetown cocktail circuit — are gone. The Swiss sport maroon suits with red highlights on the lower legs and arms.
(Note: These suits resemble Russia’s cross-country race suits on the World Cup. Alas, they also resemble Russia’s suits during the Games despite the fact that Russia’s skiers are competing under the Olympic flag as Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). See photo featuring Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave — that’s Denis Spitsov of the OAR chasing, not a Swiss skier. It helps that the Swiss skiers wear hats reading “Suisse”.)
Great Britain: From the people who brought us the modern navy … we get navy blue. Nothing says “we are not in your face” more than navy blue. Great Britain’s cross-country race suits are appropriately regal. Think the Queen, Lady Di, and the ever so cool and soon-to-be-in-line-for-the-throne, Meghan Markle. Also, Andrew Musgrave, as this reporter’s grandfather used to say, is the real McCoy. (The Scottish McCoy, not the Irish McCoy). It was a delight to watch the 2018 Olympic skiathlon unfold as a fly-on-the-wall surrounded by British journalists. Move over Chelsea. Move over Man-United. Yeah, that’s right. Musgrave is on your tails sporting navy blue lycra.
Italy: Ah Italia. They exported high fashion with the house of Gucci and they school us in the color wheel. First, Italy’s cross-country race suits feature a halcyon blue. A blue when blues sang like a pristine alpine sky and times were simpler. A time perhaps when you were finishing an altitude camp in Seiser Alm and all you had to worry about was visiting the physio for a rub-down and connecting for a post-training sesh espresso with the whos who of the World Cup … also finishing an altitude camp.
Second, we note orange. Orange is many things, but it does not scream Italy. However, we believe Italy is paying respect to its storied-art legacy by deferring to the color wheel — Italy’s suits have just a tad more than a splash of orange on the lower legs and lower arms. Blue and orange are complementary colors. That means they are opposite one another on the color wheel. Opposites attract. And if anything is attracting here, it’s Federico Pellegrino and his panache on the big stage. Dude can classic sprint, too. Here’s Pellegrino an eyeblink before crossing the line in the classic sprint final (he took silver).
Third, and this may be breaking news, Italy may have a one-off suit for Pellegrino. If you compare the below image with the one below that (behind American Caitlin Patterson, there’s an Italian skier, Sara Pellegrini), newsflash — no splash of orange. Absent the orange, the suit is identical to Pellegrino’s. ITA adorns the upper-left quad area on each suit. Italy’s biathlon team also wears the all-blue suit. Ciao for now.
Austria: What’s black and white and red allover? Austria. Across the board: cross-country, biathlon, and nordic combined, the uniforms are all the same. You’ll never not notice Austria.
Germany: Embracing their inner-Vader is Germany. Like the old Swiss race suits but taking black lycra to “11”. Germany. Add just a sprinkle of white around the shoulders to lighten the mood. The red hat emblazoned with the Bundesadler — the German federal eagle — is a fitting cap for their race wear. As badass as Clare Egan is speaking Korean (go back to U.S.A. for a refresher), the Bundesadler is nearly her avian iconography equivalent.
Germany’s cross-country, biathlon, and nordic combined teams share the same uniform.
We couldn’t cover every team, so we’re aware we left more than a few out. Hopefully this leaves you feeling a little more in-the-know when it comes to Olympic XC and biathlon spectating. Onto the relays (and biathlon mass starts) we go!
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Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.