The countdown to Rio has begun, and it’s no surprise that the gymnastic competitions are a must-watch for many. While we’re in complete awe watching these young women defy gravity and stick the landing each and every time, their superhuman ability isn’t the only thing we can’t help but admire.
The leotards of today’s gymnasts are all about wowing the crowd—and more importantly, the judges—with their glitz and glam. Bright colors, skin-tight material, and Swarovski crystals (the shinier, the better) are standard elements of the 21st century leotard. For gymnasts, a perfect one-piece is the equivalent to a perfect red carpet dress, and when these gymnasts step onto the mat looking their best, that confidence translates into their performance. But just as fashion trends on the runway evolve, so do the leotard trends on the balance beam. Scroll down for some ultimate throwbacks to see just how much the Olympic gymnastic leotard has changed over time.
1. 1908 London Olympics, Danish Gymnasts
The gymnastic uniforms worn in the early 1900s look nothing like the ones gymnasts compete in today. Women wore modest long-sleeved shirts and knee-length skirts, intended to cover up the body as much as possible. Flashy sequins were nowhere in sight, and instead the look was all about crisp white simplicity. All of the gymnasts are dressed the same, forbidding expression of individuality and instead creating the appearance of a united team.
2. 1948 London Olympics, Marian Barone
As gymnastics was introduced to the Olympics as a competitive sport, the leotard shape as we know it today became the most practical option. The leotards were designed with stretchier material to give the gymnasts more freedom in their movement. As for color, white was the go-to but here we see a touch of patriotism with red and blue stripes. Although these leotards are made with less fabric, low-cut hemlines and a boxy shape offered maximum coverage.
3. 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Larisa Latynina, USSR
The gymnasts at the 1964 Olympics ditched the standard white leo and were not afraid of experimenting with a little color. Larisa Latynina, who won 18 Olympic medals over the course of her career, sported a bright red leotard with her country’s emblem on the front. The leotards of the 1960s also saw a change in material to polyester, allowing for a more seamless fit on the gymnast’s body. The boxy shape was traded in for a classic V-neck and higher hemlines that not only improved the gymnast’s range of motion but also gave her the chance to show off her physique.
4. 1976 Montreal Olympics, Nadia Comaneci, Romania
Similar to today’s athleisure trends, the leotards of the 1970s took the sporty route. Nadia Comaneci of Romania made history with the first ever ‘perfect 10’ performance in women’s Olympic gymnastics while wearing an Adidas long-sleeved leotard that emphasized strength over elegance. Gymnasts continued to favor simplicity with a just touch of patriotism as seen by the three Adidas stripes running down her side in Romania’s colors.
5. 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Mary Lou Retton & 1996 Atlanta Olympics, The Magnificent Seven, USA
The ‘80s were definitely all about taking some risk and showing more leg. Mary Lou Retton, the first American gymnast to take home a gold medal in the women's all-around, wore a leotard with the highest cut leg ever seen. This hemline not only showed off the gymnast’s killer quads but also produced the illusion of longer legs. Instead of subtle signs of patriotism, leotards became full-blown American flags. The patriotic theme continued throughout the ‘90s as well, as seen by the leotards of the ‘Magnificent Seven,’ the first US gymnastic team to bring home the team gold medal. The ‘80s and ‘90s also marked the end of polyester with leotards now featuring improved elasticity thanks to stretch velour, velvet, foil and mesh.
6. 2004 Athens Olympics, Catalina Ponor, Romania & 2008 Beijing Olympics, Nastia Liukin, USA
With the turn of the century came the most dramatic shift in leotards ever as they were transformed into an element of the performance. It became all about having the shiniest, most bedazzled leotard on the mat that would not only catch the eye of the judges but would also increase the confidence of the gymnast wearing it. Minimalism was no longer the goal; bright colors and intricate crystal designs made these new leotards flashier and dressier. Hot pink became a new favorite amongst gymnasts, as worn by Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic individual all-around champion. And some leotards even had sheer mesh cutouts to bare even more skin, as worn by Romania’s Catalina Ponor in 2004.
7. 2012 London Olympics, The Fierce Five, USA
The USA’s ‘Fierce Five’ of the 2012 Olympics continued this shimmery trend and wore leotards adorned with over 4,000 Swarovski crystals. These flashy leotards were also made of a shiny fabric known as mystique, which has a compression fit that exquisitely defines every muscle. The Fierce Five aimed to look regal and elegant as they took home the team gold medal—Shawn Johnson, 2008 American Olympic gold medalist claimed that their red leotards, bedazzled on the front, the back, and the sleeves, were the most beautiful she’s ever seen.
8. 2016 Rio Olympics, USA Women's Gymnastic Team
And now it’s time to get pumped for the big reveal of the 2016 USA Olympic leotards. Under Armor has given us a sneak peek into what Olympic gold medalists, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, and three time world-champion, Simone Biles, will be flipping in at this year’s Olympic games. The leotards are just as glittery as we expected, with shimmery crystals and embellished stars covering every inch of the fabric. But it looks like we’re going to have to say goodbye to trendy and fun colors like purple and hot pink. Under Armour looked to the leos of the ‘80s and ‘90s for inspo and have decided to stick to red, white and blue. Make sure you keep a look out for these athletes, looking more glitzy and badass than ever as they give it their all to defend the US team goal medal in Rio.