Technical but flattering, hard-working but stylish – this is the designer kit you need to buy if you are going to be spurred on to run, cycle and swim like an Olympian this August
And so it’s Olympics time again, and after a four-year break in which we’ve given little thought to so many sports, we’re compelled to get up to speed on the omnium, the triple jump and equestrian dressage. It’s also the time, or so we’re led to believe, that the sight of the world’s best in action prompts us to pick up a javelin, get down to the rowing club, fling ourselves into judo lessons. Follows, then, that the kit manufacturers see an opportunity to dress us, we saggy optimists, as we haul ourselves from our nice, comfy homes to the local gym.
The truth, though, is that we actually become armchair experts in, say, the heptathlon – “I think Jess is still wanting in the long-jump”, etc – and have as much intention of taking up Greco-Roman wrestling as becoming an astronaut. The Olympics is a joyfully sedentary spectating experience.
It probably does, though, spur some of us on to do something active, and that something is the simple stuff like running, cycling, swimming and it’s on these sports that we’re going to spend our money. The manufacturers must be blessing the IOC for making golf an Olympic sport, too. A sporting wardrobe’s never so complete that it can’t accommodate another polo shirt.
This is the time when the sight of the world’s best in action prompts us to pick up a javelin, get down to the rowing club, or fling ourselves into judo lessons
The difficulty, for us amateurs, is purchasing something that’s technical but flattering, too, given that the kit athletes use is about as stylish as a North Korean accountants’ convention. With the best will in the world, real athletes in real technical gear, look fabulous only because their bodies are fabulous.
Adidas is the official team supplier to Team GB. And sorry, teaming up with Stella McCartney might be a jolly British thing to do, but a palette of bright red white and blue, and a base material of Lycra, gives her as much creative scope as a Sainsbury’s own-brand tinned peas can designer.
So what we’re looking at here is the essence of the Olympics, the spirit of getting out and pushing the boundaries. So Adidas, for example, has just launched the UltraBOOST Uncaged, £129.95, which is created by its running team but takes its influence not from the track, but the urban hipsters for whom buying trainers is an art form. It has all the technical spec you’d want, with an internal support system and tiered lacing, but looks cool, too.
New Balance’s Fresh Foam 1080 running shoes, from £76, aren’t quite as street smart, but again technically excellent trainers that look also look smart. For a company best known for its footwear, it doesn’t do too badly with its running tops, either. Its Performance Merino short sleeve tee comes in a surprisingly flattering orange and is on sale now at £42. Or if you want something more technical go for its Precision Run top. This has a lightweight knit front body and woven back and laser perforations to help keep you cool, and also on sale, for £35.
If that still feels a bit too pro athlete, then look no further than Iffley Road. Taking its name from the running track where Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, this is a lovely independent British company, set up by a husband and wife who both love to run – indeed, met through their running. Although their gear uses technical fabrics, there’s no Lycra in sight, and the clothing has a lovely retro feel, like this classic running tee, £65, in Cambrian Night Sky (below) – that’s navy blue to you and me – and Lancaster Night Sky Striped running vest, £68. ‘It’s kit we’re happy to keep on after our run to meet friends for a coffee or a pint,’ they say on their website, although that tells me they should have been training a bit harder.
The cycling cousin to Iffley Road is Huez*, a company set up by two Brits looking for cycling gear that wasn’t emblazoned by logos. Again the name has heritage − L’Alpe d’Huez is a Tour de France climb (the asterisk is an affectation) and again they use technical fabrics for their minimalist designs such as Bleed Print Jersey (below) in a four-way stretch fabric, £110, and Starman Bib Shorts cut from Italian Lycra with mesh ventilation, £130.
There is a chance other sports might pull in the amateur. Tennis, which was reintroduced to the modern Olympics in 1988, is kind of easy for the novice to enjoy. And here’s that old pro Björn Borg to help you out with the attire. Bjorn has made a very successful living since his playing days thank you very much, as the purveyor of upmarket men’s pants. His Achromatic collection, launched unsurprisingly to coincide with Wimbledon is about as achromatic as you can get – in a brilliant white that not even an American’s teeth can match. You know, though, that it will be well made and do the job, so £70 on the Alan tee or £70 on the Alex shorts (below) aren’t that outlandish.
Casual sporters dragged into thinking about exercise by major international events are also casual swimmers. Basically, the choice of swimwear is often ugly-but-practical or cool but really not going to last more than half a dozen chlorine-soaked sessions. Ron Dorff has a swimwear range that will do the job, with trunks –definitely OK for swimming pools, if not the beach – costing £65 and SwimGym short £105, and it is worth checking out Frescobol Carioca (the name comes from the Brazilian beach ball game“Frescobol”), which not only has a great range of beach attire (including these Janelas sports swim shorts, £135, below) but the wooden beach bats to go with them.
Quite how many people will be taking up golf as a result of it becoming an Olympic sport is open to question. The one thing you pretty much need which you don’t with these other sports, is a club membership of some sort. But who knows, it could get a whole new crowd on to the municipal green.
Good news for those who will, is that the attire is no longer restricted, essentially, to being suitable only for Alan Partridges. Dunhill this year launched a particularly pleasing Links Golfwear range, taking its influence from veterans like Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Even more pleasing is that just when there might be a new intake of men prepared to get up very early and fight their battles with wind, rain and rough, they are offering huge reductions on pretty much everything. So its Links Performance Blouson in Burgundy (above) is down from £230 to £138, while the Links knitted half pullover is reduced from £150 to £90. And yes, there’s the Double pique polo shirt also down from £150 to £90. And aren’t polo shirts where we came in?
Main image: Frescobol Carioca
Simon Hills is associate editor of The Times Magazine