Will The UK’s Olympic Uniforms Cost The Brits Medals?

Did the designer Stella McCartney disadvantage Team GB by not including more red in their Olympic outfits?

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British athletes, triple jumper Phillips Idowu (L) and heptathlete Jessica Ennis (R) pose with designer Stella McCartney (C) as they unveil the new British Olympic Team GB kit designed by Stella McCartney during a photocall in central London on March 22, 2012

Did the designer Stella McCartney hurt Team GB by not including more red in the Olympic outfits?

Both a sports psychologist and an academic who have researched the impact of uniform color on athletic performance think that the host nation may have put itself at a disadvantage by not having enough red.

“Obviously she has designed these from a fashion point of view and was not taking into account the possible effects that might have on performance,” Professor Robert Barton told the Guardian about the contentious uniforms (they’re mainly blue and white, apart from a mostly red trim around the collar). “Given there’s an obvious justification for [including more red] and given the effects that we and other scientists have found, it does seem like a mistake.”

Barton co-authored a 2005 report that linked the color red to an athlete’s chance of success. Indeed, while this initial study was based on combat sports at the 2004 Athens Games, further research has shown that the trend holds up across a range of different disciplines.

Using British football as a reference (and as we all know, statistics can be used to show whatever point the writer wishes to make), just look at Manchester United (nicknamed the Red Devils), who have dominated the Premier League since its inception in 1992. And before Man U. began their era of supremacy, local rivals Liverpool (who also wear red) were the undisputed kings of the game. And if we want to go back even further, the British national team enjoyed its crowning achievement – beating West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final –  while wearing, you guessed it, red. The West Germans preferred white, and paid the price.

(LIST: Top 10 World Cup Games)

In golf, we know Tiger Woods always wears red on the final day of a tournament. According to Tiger, it’s because his mother thought it was his power color (“and you know you should always listen to your mom”). Or as Golf Magazine once noted, “There’s more to red than that. As the color of fire and blood, red is associated with energy, war, strength and power.”

Previous British Olympic uniforms featured more red (along with the other colors found in the Union flag, white and blue), and the color seemed to help in Beijing four years ago, when Great Britain finished in a surprising fourth place in the medals table.

The clinical sports psychologist Dr. Victor Thompson thinks Britain has bungled an opportunity. “When sport means so much and the outcome is often decided in millimeters or thousandths of a second, we should be doing all we can to help our athletes achieve,” he told the Guardian. “I think that the GB Olympic designers may have missed an opportunity here to include more red in the design. This may have helped give the GB wearers a boost psychologically that would be reflected in physical performance – for instance, if the red increased confidence, [positive] aggression and sense that they are dominant, then they are likely to perform closer to their peak performance potential … While these effects are likely to be small, when it comes to the Olympics, the margins between gold and silver, medal and non-medal, are small.”

As for McCartney, she’s not concerned with such talk of “aggression” or “peak performance potential” but rather in a contemporary take on the union flag. “Something that was very important to me was to try and use that very iconic image but to dismantle it and try to soften it, break it down and make it more fashionable in a sense,” she said at the launch at the Tower of London (and if you were looking for an ominous omen, it was surely the choice of location). “I’m really aware the reds, whites and blues are in other nations’ flags and sometimes you can feel quite confused when you are watching the Games … is that American, is that French? It’s very recognizable still, I’ve represented all the parts of Great Britain. There’s a lot of red in there, but in a non-traditional way.”

But if the host nation underachieves at the medals table, Ms. McCartney, the whole U.K. will be seeing red.

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