Or, Why I missed the Opening Ceremonies
As the whole beach volleyball uniform “discussion” during London 2012 demonstrates, the Olympics are not simply about “stronger, faster, higher” but also about clothes—or the lack of them.
Before getting to my athletic stories about my 1988 Olympic trip, I decided to tell you how complicated Olympic fashion issues can be.
Assembling uniforms for a Canadian Olympic team is, apparently, a task considered challenging, exacting, and time-consuming. At least that’s what I thought when I received a clothing questionnaire from the COA approximately two months before the Olympics. This questionnaire consisted of six pages of fine print. It asked not only for the usual sizes and measurements, like bust, waist, and hip measurements, dress size, shoe size, etc. There were obscure measurements like “shoulder to wrist length,” “top of inner thigh to ankle,” “neck circumference,” and others beyond recall. The questionnaire asked about bathing suit size, bra size, jacket size, tennis dress size, and more. Possibly one benefit of making the Olympic team was going to be gaining the biggest wardrobe I had ever owned?
After a couple of hours of work, my measuring partner and I finally put the measuring tape aside. The questionnaire was quickly mailed. I was cautiously optimistic that its thoroughness guaranteed that my Olympic uniforms would fit me, though I was doubtful about whether the dress shoes would be produced in a size 4½.
One thing was certain: the six pages of questions were so comprehensive that someone could have made a perfectly-sized clay replica of me after reading my completed questionnaire.
The “Staging” in Vancouver
Fast forward to about September 11, 1988. The “staging” for the Olympics was held in Vancouver. This was where all the Canadian teams picked up their uniforms prior to flying to Seoul, South Korea. The track & field team was the last team to go through the staging process, because athletics didn’t start until midway through the Olympics.
Each member of the track & field team would receive two sets of clothing. The first set was common to every member of the Canadian team, regardless of sport. This would include our opening ceremonies uniform and all the “extra” pieces of clothing that the questionnaire had enticingly implied we would receive. The second set of clothing was exclusive to Athletics Canada; this was the competition clothing for track & field athletes, including our sweatsuits.
We were told to go to a certain counter and ask by size for the general Canadian team clothing. There were several people working at the counter and my teammates seemed to be obtaining their bags without incident. I was one of the last people to reach the counter. I asked for a size 2 batch of clothing, secure in the knowledge that I had filled out the questionnaire thoroughly and returned it promptly.
The woman at the counter replied, “I’m sorry—we only have size 16 left.”
I was dumbfounded. How could this have happened? How could I, an 88-lb woman, be given a size 16 uniform?
Well, this is how it worked. The questionnaires told the bureaucrats how many uniforms of each size to assemble, but they didn’t bother attaching names to any of the bags of clothing. No doubt, when the gymnastics team had passed through Vancouver and picked up their uniforms, a girl picked up her size 4 clothing, decided it was a little too big, and exchanged it for my size 2 bag. Then another girl had exchanged her size 6 bag for a size 4 bag. And so on. And now, as my teammates happily picked up bags in the huge range of sizes that athletics competitors come in, from size 4 distance runners to size 18 discus throwers, there was only one bag left for me, and everything in it was size 16. Except the shoes—they were probably size 12; I don’t remember.
Even my mother, who was a size 12 and had been the fortunate recipient of many other too-large items of clothing that I had received on other teams, would not be able to wear these items.
Reducing a size 16 skirt and jacket to a size 2 was beyond the ability of the most skillful seamstress, so I would not be participating in the opening ceremonies.
However…focusing on the positive…
Athletics Canada was smarter than the COA. They knew that distance runners can be small—very small. In fact, in 1988 our coterie of distance runners included many small women, among them Sue Lee, Carole Rouillard, Lynn Williams, and Debbie Bowker, all of us barely over 5 feet tall and between 88 lbs and (maybe?) 110 lbs. And our track uniforms fit us beautifully! We even had the choice of running in a one-piece bodysuit or bum shorts and a singlet. (I liked the bodysuit but chose to compete in the shorts and singlet, because they were cooler.)
My Consolation Prize
To make up for having a useless bag of extra-large clothing, I decided that one of my tourist activities in Seoul would be to buy some custom-made clothing. We had been told that many tourists took advantage of the excellent skills and inexpensive prices of Seoul’s tailors.
On one of the few days that I spent exploring Seoul before athletics started at the Olympics, I chose a shop that displayed English ads for custom-made clothing. I quickly found out the price for a custom-made leather jacket. I don’t remember what it was, only that it was a very good price. I got all my measurements taken, and a few days later picked up my perfect-fitting leather jacket! I was very pleased. You can see from the photo that it still fits. Leather is not often my style so that’s why the jacket is in top condition after 24 years, but I think I’ll start wearing it again.