Olympic Games | The Guardian
While the hopefuls in Tokyo discuss the minor benefits of Vaporfly running shoes, the British female athletes have kept another secret weapon near their chest.
In pursuit of minor performance gains, the female members of Team GB and Paralympics GB have been fitted with specially designed sports bras to lift, shape and support their path to victory.
“Everything we do in elite sport is aimed at making that small improvement,” said Dr. Anita Biswas, senior sports doctor and co-head of female athlete health at the English Institute of Sport (EIS).
“Having an athlete who is comfortable, whether through their equipment or clothing, can have a significant impact on their ability to focus on the task at hand. We often think of the outerwear, we don’t think of the underwear, ”she said.
Wearing a poorly fitting bra can cause a variety of problems in women, from chest pain and sagging tissue to chafed skin, but it can also affect their athletic performance. Recent research by Joanna Wakefield-Scurr and her colleagues at the University of Portsmouth found that running in a poorly supportive bra shortens a woman’s stride length by up to 4 cm – which could add up to an extra mile over the length of a marathon .
It also made the workout harder and increased muscle activity in the upper body, which could mean they felt tired sooner. “When the breasts are well supported, you have more natural flow of breath, especially when you are active, and you move more efficiently,” says Wakefield-Scurr.
In 2019, she partnered with the EIS as part of a wider campaign to improve the health and performance of female athletes. An initial survey of 70 top athletes found that 75% had never worn a sports bra, while 26% said chest pain had affected their performance.
Biswas said, “Most athletes wear the equipment that is made available to them [by sponsors or event organisers]and although underwear is not part of that commitment because they get a free crop top and all the rest of their clothing is branded, they often only wear what comes with it.
“Some athletes didn’t think about it at all, others thought about it – that it was a little uncomfortable so they’d wear a bra underneath – but they didn’t necessarily think about using something completely different.”
Of the athletes surveyed, 70% said they would like to keep improving their breast health. That’s why EIS has partnered with underwear maker Clover to design and customize sports bras for more than 100 British athletes in 15 different sports. They also produced bespoke bras for multiple athletes with specific breast problems. This included a rower who had to glue her heavy breasts to her body because she couldn’t find a bra to keep them in place and a Paralympic shooter who could be disqualified if her breasts touched her rifle (see case study) . “There are some really easy wins from a bra design perspective,” said Biswas.
Other female members of Team GB and Paralympics GB have a choice of an enclosed sports bra for high-impact sports such as running that includes individual cups to support each breast; or a compression bra for less stressful sports such as rowing that hugs the breasts against the chest to restrict movement.
Team GB rower Vicky Thornley said, “There are a lot of innovations in general sports equipment, but that innovation hasn’t really caught on in women’s sports bras until now. I find it very encouraging that they are starting to look at women in sports that way and not just treat us as little men. “
Athletes received their new bras earlier this month, ahead of the Olympics, which start on July 23.
Biswas said: “I would be exaggerating if I said that a bra makes all the difference; it’s going to be all of the other things an athlete has been doing in the past four or eight years. However, just feeling more comfortable and not having to think about your breasts moving will undoubtedly have a small impact.
And a bit of clout counts when looking for Olympic gold.
Lorraine Lambert, Paralympic shooter
“It’s all about knocking me out”: Paralympics GB shooter Lorraine Lambert. Photo: Jordan Pettitt / Solent News & Photo Agency / Solent News
Hoping to win a medal at the September Paralympics, Lorraine has been fitted with a bespoke bra that she hopes will improve her performance by keeping her breasts out of the way and preventing the tiny movements of her heartbeat transferred to her rifle.
“In contrast to the dynamic sports that try to minimize [breast] Bounce, I just have to be really quiet because when I take photos we talk about millimeter accuracy, ”she said. “I have a pretty big chest too, so my bra is all about flattening me.”
To achieve this, the Clover designers used mesh inserts and the strategic placement of darts to redistribute Lorraine’s breast tissue, pushing it down, then forward so that the gun would not make contact with their body when firing. This is important as she could be awarded penalty points if her rifle touches her breasts. “The gun is allowed to touch my hands because I am holding it and I can rest my arms on my upper body, but the gun cannot physically touch me anywhere on my body,” she said.
Optical sensors on Lorraine’s weapon suggest that the new bra has improved its accuracy. She is also more comfortable shooting when wearing it. “It’s not just the support and how it kills me, I just feel better about it,” she said.
Vicky Thornley, Olympic rower
‘The fabric is pretty good in the heat’: Vicky Thornley in April 2021. Photo: Danilo Vigo / LiveMedia / Rex / Shutterstock
Olympic silver medalist Vicky was given a compression-style sports bra that will be worn by many Team GB athletes in Tokyo
Clover Technical Designer Megan Blakemore said, “The first thing we looked at was the fabric. Of course they will compete in Tokyo in very hot weather, so we opted for a super soft, cooling fine fabric, where we could clean the edges completely for reasons of aerodynamics. “
The bra also features cutaway areas on the back, which are often where women feel hottest, as well as zone support in the areas where it is most needed.
Vicky tries out her new bra at a training camp in Italy. She said, “It’s pretty good in the heat because the material has some kind of moisture wicking effect. I think that will definitely have a positive effect on performance as we will be racing in Tokyo in the heat, ”she said.
Prior to the EIS project, Vicky said she didn’t really think about the type of bra she was wearing. “I often only bought bras that were nicely colored or patterned instead of thinking about their functionality. But a sports bra is actually a huge part of women’s outfit and only now is it really being talked about and made a priority in terms of our performance.
“I hope we have a lot more secret weapons than sports bras, but it never hurts.”
Sarah Robertson, Olympic ice hockey player
“It will improve my performance because I just feel good”: Sarah Robertson. Photo: BSR Agency / Getty
Field athletes like hockey player Sarah Robertson are often required to wear heart rate monitors, GPS trackers, or other smart devices that are usually worn in a separate harness under the athlete’s top.
“In terms of women’s comfort, it seems so obvious that they don’t have to wear an extra piece of clothing to carry their GPS system and bra, but as with many things in sports, the idea often starts in men’s sports and is then adapted, instead of being developed from the ground up with the athlete in mind, ”said Anita Biswas from the English Institute of Sport.
An additional challenge for Sarah was the combination of a relatively large cup size and a small waist size, which made it difficult for her to find a suitable off-the-shelf design. “Even if I bought a bra that technically fits, with the level of support it offers, it’s just not designed to withstand the high stresses of running and hockey,” she said.
Clover has designed a bespoke enclosed bra that includes a pocket for her tracking devices and pushes her breast tissue forward to allow her arms to move freely and reduce chafing.
Sarah said: “For me it was about getting a bra that I would be comfortable with when I can perform in the UK stripe, which has a very narrow racerback, and not an additional one, given the humidity in Japan Shift. ”For the GPS device.
“If you walk into a place worried about your outfit or gear, you are already on your backfoot, so I think that being comfortable with what I’m wearing will improve my performance.”