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The costume disciplinarian speaks: Is it better to look good than to ski fast?

Tue, Jul  14, 2009 - By Mike Balduf

Oh, sure, every World Cup Nordic ski team needs a good waxing crew, but they need something more — a top-notch costume disciplinarian.

I’m not talking about some Scandinavian blonde with a whip (though there were those rumors about the Austrian team).  I mean a no-nonsense fashionista who will insure that the team not only skis fast, but looks good — with consistent logos, flags, advertising, and color schemes.  Someone who is not afraid to say, “Sorry, Klaus, you can’t wear the green pants with the purple top for the team sprints.  Take it back to the changing hut.”

For now, I’m happy to assume the mantle of costume disciplinarian, and I’m ready to take a fearless look back at the 2008-2009 World Cup season.

I’ve awarded each team up to five points based on style and costume discipline.  You can vote for your top uniform at the end of this article.

USA — 3 points

Those new red suits with white piping look sharp, but will winning results  follow?  At least Team USA has forsaken the wear-what-you-brung look that made ‘em hard to spot in televised World Cup races.  Now, though, they might be mistaken for Norwegians…but is that a bad thing?

Kris Freeman (Photo: Win Goodbody)

Kris Freeman sporting US red (Photo: Win Goodbody)

Italy — 4 points

Che bello uniforme!  Cutting-edge fashion from Fila — with that nice metallic blue-and-white grid pattern.  Is it the total package?  No.  The effect was spoiled — in a bow to individual expression — by those funky, one-off hats with their bunny-tail top-knots.

Russia  — 2 points

Russian skiers came in a plain blue wrapper with a plethora of  oil company logos.  There is no truth to the rumor that the Russians are waxing with 10W-40.  At times, though, I expected the Russian team to stop and do some exploratory drilling at trackside.  It’s almost enough, comrades, to make you long for the advertising-free Soviet era of sport.

Natalia Matveeva racing in the sprint in Whistler

Russian Natalia Matveeva (left) in the sprint quarterfinals in Whistler.

Germany — 2 points

The German team soldiers on with the black-and-yellow bumble-bee look  that hasn’t changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dull and  traditional…but a nice paycheck from Adidas, thank you.

Norway — 2.5 points

I prefer the old-school uniforms of years past that featured a Norwegian flag motif on a field of red.  Early in 2008-2009 season, the Norwegians raced in a plain red suit, then added a subtle flash of flag on the left leg.  They have been very good at hat discipline — you never see a skier without a Norwegian flag correctly placed on his or her hat.

In truth, the Norwegians could wear red wool union suits, Bozo noses and  reindeer-fur earmuffs, and they would still be fast.

Andy Newell hot on the heels of Ola Vigen Hattestad (Photo: Phil Bowen)

Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) leading Andy Newell (USA) (Photo: Phil Bowen)

Poland — 1 point

Here’s proof that clothes don’t make the skier.  The Poles wore last year’s off-the-rack Swix racing suits.  Not very inspiring, but when you’re as good as Justyna Kowalczyk, who cares?

Sweden — 1.5 points

A brave, but failed, foray into Scandinavian design.  Those white suits with blue and yellow leggings might have looked good on paper, but the television camera is unforgiving.  They reminded me, at times, of my Uncle Olaf’s BVD long johns.

Don’t tell Charlotte Kalla, but the Swedish suits make you look 20 pounds heavier on TV — and not in the most flattering places.

Joensson edges Hattestad

Emil Joensson (SWE) takes the victory despite his suit. Germany is far left, Russia in blue and Norway in red.

Worst fashion flop of the 2008-2009 ski season

It was that odd, snaky design that adorned some skiers’ posteriors.  It reminded me of my old granddad when he forgot to  hitch up his suspenders…or recently sat on a python.  Who would OK this droopy-drawers design?  I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to root for a skier who violates such a basic tenet of costume discipline.

Next, the ugliest world cup uniform…

Canada  — .5 points

The previous year’s Captain Atomic suit — complete with electrifying red thunderbolts — made the Canucks look like winners.  Unfortunately, it was replaced by a design that plunged them into the fashion wilderness — somewhere north of Saskatoon.  On TV, the new suits were rendered a washed-out pink, with what appeared to be a wolverine paw print on each leg.  Unfortunately, none of these suits was filled with the form of the injured Chandra Crawford.

Sartorially, northern friends, there is still time to recover before the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Devon Kershaw (CAN) qualifying 16th

Devon Kershaw (CAN) sports the Canadian uni.

And the winner for best uniform is…

Finland — 5 points

Very smart, a winning uniform for a winning team.  I love the post-modern style with lime-green and bright-orange flashes accenting the blue-and-white color scheme.  Great attention to detail with the theme carried over to hats and head bands, plus a patriotic “Suomi” printed on the right leg.  The only thing lacking was a pocket for I-pod or MP3 player.

The Finns must have a superb costume disciplinarian.

I’d like to meet her…for some style pointers.

Saarinen leading the race early.  She attacked hard several times and opened sizable gaps each time, but was eventually tracked down.

Aino Kaisa Saarinen of Finland, wearing the top ranked suit.