College competitors dress to win, use brightness to intimidate

Livia Meneghin || Contributing Writer

High atop Mount Olympus, the Winged Goddess of Victory, Nike, shimmers in gold, looking upon students jogging in the field house, waiting for the best athlete to reveal herself. I stand in the infield, and as the 55-meter sprinters line up on the blocks, and I predict the winner based on who has the brightest pair of spikes.

Loud and bright colors are often used for intimidation and exuding confidence. I’ve walked into various Adidas, Nike, Brooks, and New Balance stores only to see a wall of neon sneakers and track shoes. Even spandex bottoms don patterns and stripes, when they have been traditionally black and plain. But not just commercial businesses tie bright clothing and footwear with successful training. They may only be responding to an existing cultural mantra dictated by us athletes: Brighter is always better.

I came to F&M with only three months experience throwing shot put and discus. Now in my fourth year of competition, I have witnessed a group dynamic centered on appearance, even if we aren’t featured competing on ESPN. Everyone is working to maintain a hierarchical structure on the team and within the sport. Only the best wear the latest and brightest fashions. It’s a harsh reality for some, but ultimately teammates are just acting according to what they believe is fair. Bright spikes and shoes are something earned by an athlete, not bought.

In 2011, Nike released Zoom Victory spikes for mid distance runners (200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters) that featured two different colored shoes: blue and volt green. At an Indoor Track & Field meet at Cornell University last February, almost all the Division I 400-meter runners wore the bright spikes, now also in solar red and volt yellow. And they were fast. No false advertising there.

As a new thrower my freshman year, I opted for the modest red and white Adidas Throwstars. A year later they released a yellow and black coloration, which I’ve moved onto purchasing simply because my first pair wore out, and for Winter 2013, Adidas put neon blue and black Throwstars on the market. Although they correlate with F&M colors better, I’m not sure if I would ever wear them. Despite my third place finish in Shot Put at the Indoor Conference Championship meet two years ago, I have yet to win gold and I am not looking to disturb a system and a culture. However, my choice to exude humility is not completely mine. It’s a reflection of the culture dictated for me.

The earliest track and field runners in Ancient Greece competed naked, motivated by honor and pride and disinterested in vanity. This emphasis on victory continued, and the focus of sport turned more towards elegance and tradition.

Collegiate athletics, in particular, became associated with the upper echelons of society. Students wore neutral colored wool or cotton uniforms, which during the early twentieth century, were very free fitting compared to a man’s daily suit.

Off the track, athletes could brag with their education or wealth. But when it was time to race, leather shoes with inch long spikes would line up on the dirt track, and the fastest man would have to win on talent alone.

So why do athletes today feel like they need to dress in flashy colors? Shouldn’t their results speak for themselves?

Hurdler Samantha Walmer also competes for F&M and has been a part of the sport for many years. “I like the feeling of winning,” she said, and certainly dresses with that attitude in mind. At practice yesterday Walmer wore a neon blue Fila top, black spandex capris, pink and blue Nike shoes, and a neon yellow Under Armor headband. I can’t speak to why this trend didn’t start sooner, but for athletes today: looking good means feeling good, and confidence yields results.

Standing out to survive is an all too familiar reality for many animal species. Frogs, snakes and birds use bright colors to gain attention, or give off the appearance of power. The harmless Scarlet King Snake imitates the aposematic red, yellow and black pattern of the poisonous Coral Snake. All colorful snakes, therefore, automatically become dangerous.

Gettysburg College runner Jackie Marotto explained a similar phenomenon at the starting line of races. She said, “I expect [athletes] to be good if they’re wearing flashy or expensive looking spikes, but when they end up not being that great, it’s kind of funny.” If you see lots of color, you can expect that athlete (or snake) to mean business.

Are brands like Nike and Under Armour feeding a false confidence into young athletes? Or is my choice of purchasing neon yellow and white track sneakers a result of the conviction as a veteran competitor?

The F&M Indoor Track & Field Conferences is coming up during the last week of February, and we have another trip to Cornell in the meantime. As athletes, we know we have little time to prove ourselves. Biology and history hint that when in doubt, neon out.

Senior Livia Meneghin is a contributing writer. Her email is livia.meneghin@fandm.edu.

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