The ladies from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas track team are looking good this week. Check them out at the NCAA Championships here on the BYU track. Check out all the women. Maybe they aren't all Florence Griffith Joyner. But they all look like they could be.
Not that it's a good idea to tell them that. Imitation is not a woman track star's idea of flattery. Fashion is meant to be a personal thing. Or, as UNLV sprinter Carrie Franklin explained as she demonstrated a full set of customized purple designer nails that matched perfectly the purple swoosh on her Nikes and complemented her pale-peach warmup suit, "these are the fashion statement within me."She said that her nails pre-dated FloJo, as-a-matter-of-fact.
But ever since FloJo's wow-the-world tour in the summer of '88, when she cut more records than the Beatles and, in the process, brought looking good square into the world of track & field, "Track Chic" has become a lot more viable and visible. It's in to be glamorous. Fast is beautiful. You are what you wear.
"Women's track has been feminized," said Sheila Nicks, a UNLV coach who recently completed her college eligibility. She remembered, as did Franklin, competing with FloJo and her equally celebrated gold medal sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, when they were in the college meets.
"Back when she was just Florence, and was going out with Greg Foster."
"You know," said Nicks - who, incidentally, came to Tuesday's looking-good workout wearing a coaching outfit of tailored denim jeans, tied at the waist, a designer sweater, and braided hair - "the thinking used to be that all women athletes were real hard, or real gay. They used to say that the ones who looked the worst, they were the fastest."
But those were the old days. The pre-1988 days. The days before Spandex and lycra became a track girl's best friend and FloJo showed up at Indianapolis in nails and lace tights.
"I used to wouldn't even wear tights, or, if I did, I'd wear a pair of shorts over them," said Billie Butler, a UNLV triple jumper from Las Vegas. She explained that that was when she was in high school - two years ago.
Now, sleek fashion statements are everywhere. For instance, Maddette Smith, UNLV's No. 1 ranked long jumper, has violet-colored contact lenses this week, and sprinter Cheryl Cheeks, from Houston, is wearing gold-framed sunglasses. Smith would have designer nails as well, except she bit them off worrying about the meet.
Does all this accessorizing help your times and distances? "Well," said Trevaia Williams, a UNLV sprinter from Houston, "If you think you're looking cute, then you naturally think you're going to do better . . . of course, these days everybody thinks they're looking cute."
As with all trends, this one is not without its potential problems. The Vegas women remembered an open meet a few weeks ago when an unattached runner entered a race wearing a fashion statement that didn't make much of a statement, if you know what they mean.
"She finished fifth," said Nicks. "And nobody knew who won the race. Everybody was watching her."
The UNLV team explained that competing for a college means more conservative restrictions as to style of dress - on meet days, especially. "The coaches don't even want us going to the library in body suits or tights," said Williams. "But you go to the supermarket, and you see everybody wearing them."
They're trying to look like women track stars.
The companies that manufacture trackwear have not been slow on the uptake.
"They know what women like, and they're catering to us," said Franklin. "The sport has changed much for the better."
Can combination track meets/fashion shows be far off? Or Christian Dior designed uniforms? Or Anne Klein aerodynamic jewelry? Is it only a matter of time before somebody screams before a race or a jump, "BUT I DON'T HAVE ANYTHING DECENT TO WEAR!"
Still, as the ladies from Vegas were quick to point out, a track meet, for all its post-FloJo improvements, does restrict your possibilities. "You think we look good now," they said as they prepared for their week's work at the nationals, "You ought to see us at a party."