Olympic uniforms could spark an ugly old rivalry

There’s a controversy percolating over some of this year’s Olympic uniforms. At issue are two very different looks with storied pasts — a past that may open old wounds from a long-forgotten culture clash as they return to the spotlight.

One is the U.S. snowboarding team uniform being supplied by Burton, a pillar of the snowboarding community. Unlike Burton’s uniforms from past Olympic years, there’s no visible attempt at conformity in this year’s look (right). Rather, the flannel tops and tortured denim pants (which are actually bomb-proof Gortex fabric fashioned with high detailed graphics) are a clear tribute to the sport’s rebellious past. Snowboarders — arguably accidental athletes to begin with — have embraced the outfits.

On the flip side we have the very interesting look U.S. snowboarders will be expected to flaunt during the Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony (below left). The snazzy Ralph Lauren getups, inspired by the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Games, hearken back to the same resort-dweller breed who tried a generation ago to run snowboarders out of Dodge. This could get ugly — or is it already? — Certainly not as ugly as the men’s figure skating costumes.

Scotty Lago, a member of the men’s halfpipe squad, did mention that he already has plans for his ceremony attire. “I’ll have to keep them so I can wear them on my yacht I’m planning on getting one day far in the future,” Lago said.

The other U.S. snowboard Olympic team members are raising their eyebrows, but biting their tongues on the matter. We have yet to confirm if there’s a gag order in place.

Of course, there were plenty of raised eyebrows when the scrappy Burton uniforms were first revealed. To sporty Olympic purists the sloppy aesthetic lacked the usual reverence reserved for the world’s biggest athletic stage. Naysayers immediately chimed in with snide remarks in chat rooms, claiming, among other things, that the snowboarders looked more like they were headed for a Bon Jovi concert than the Olympic Games.

The old rift between snowboarders and skiers dates back to a time when snowboarders weren’t even allowed on most mountain resorts. The skier class, along with their snooty resort brethren, made life miserable for the unruly little fringe dwellers for years. The subsequent clash got pretty heated during the 1990s, with snowboarders eventually winning out and carving a place for themselves on the mountain.

Fast forward 20 years and things have changed quite a bit. Shaun White is one of the most popular Olympic athletes in the world. Resorts have long since adjusted to the new reality, and most of the animosity between skiing and snowboarding communities has faded from view…but perhaps not for long.