We are officially into the 2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics and boy has it been eventful. I’m not really a sports kind of gal, but I will watch the Olympics because it is definitely not an event to be missed. My absolute favourite part about the Olympics is the opening ceremony. Why? The uniforms of course! It is so interesting watching each country’s team parade with their flag and matching outfits.
As a South African, I always watch out for my country and so far, every year the SA team outfits have been… disappointing. However, this year’s team outfit choice certainly turned more than a couple of heads and there appears to be very mixed feelings about them among South Africans. But I’ll get into that a little later. For now, let’s take a look at the South African Olympic team’s uniform through the years:
1. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing:
In the 2008 Olympics the South African flag was proudly carried by the incredible Nathalie Du Toit. That year, Du Toit was the only athlete to hold her country's flag in the opening ceremony for both the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year. Olympic team uniforms were simple, plain and nothing overly exciting with a small South African flag along the chest. All I can say is, what is with the extremely long white skirts and the green crocs? But then again, it was 2008.
Photo: Nathalie Du Toit carrying the South African flag at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing (source: www.howtheyplay.com)
2. The 2012 Olympics in London:
The 2012 Olympics was a record breaking one with South Africa winning a total of six medals (four gold, one silver, and one bronze). The most notable event being the breaking of the men's backstroke world and Olympic record by Cameron van der Burgh. As for the uniforms, they really made up for 2008 with a massive South African flag across the chest. An easy patriotic move.
Photo: Caster Semenya carrying the South African flag at the Summer 2012 Olympics in London (source: www.washingtonpost.com)
3. The 2016 Olympics in Rio:
Okay so here is where it gets interesting. The 2016 Olympics was South Africa's nineteenth time attending the Olympics in history. They won a grand total of 10 medals (2 gold, 6 silver, and 2 bronze). However, the medals were not what stole the show that year. It was South Africa's choice of team uniform of course. Although the rest of the world loved the green and yellow tracksuits, South Africans flung themselves into a fit of rage over them. Despite the uniforms being featured in the top 10 best dressed team and receive glowing reviews from American GQ magazine and Huffington Post, many South Africans hated the uniforms, comparing them to the look of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Well, now I can't unsee it.
Photo: The South African 2016 Olympics team (source: www.goodthingsguy.com)
4. The 2020/2021 Olympics in Tokyo:
This brings us to the 2020/2021 Olympics. As you may (or may not) know, this years team SA uniform has received a mixed response. While some love the look and think it's unique and fully captures the diversity of South African culture. Others are less enthusiastic about it. After speaking to the whole Differently team, we have decided that we belong to the former group of South Africans. We absolutely love this look and here's why:
The talented four young designers, Mbali Zulu, Nompumelelo Mjadu, Sandile Sikhakhane and Sipho Lushaba, are from the Durban Fashion Fair mentorship programme and have a very wholesome message behind their design:
“We were inspired by Nelson Mandela’s dream to unite people through sports (so) we incorporated elements that stand out in our diverse country, which is the Protea (our national flower), the big 5 leopard, Madiba shirt and zebra lines.”
The fact that Zebra print is trending in the fashion world at the moment also helps.
The boots worn by the SA Olympics team are the type of shoe most South Africans would have seen at every farmers market in the country. However, these are no ordinary vellies. They are ironically born from the hatred of the 2016 SA Olympic uniforms. How poetic! After witnessing the disaster that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja tracksuits, founders Nick Dreyer and Ross Zondagh started Veldskoen Shoes. Veldskoen said in April:
“Unimpressed with the kit the SA athletes wore to the opening ceremony, our founders began imagining what they could have worn that would have better represented South Africa. The answer they came up with was a pair of traditional Vellies but injected with a pop of colour. Our signature look today.
Well, the story has come full circle. VELDSKOEN has been chosen as the official off-field shoe for South African athletes at this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. We’ve been pinching ourselves all day. What a dream come true!”
Photo: The South African Olympic team at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (Source: www.sapeople.com)
Photo: The SA Olympic team showing off their Veldskoen, 2021 (source: www.sapeople.com)
So far in the 2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics, South Africa has earned itself two silver medals, one for swimming and one for surfing. Go team! Woohoo, sports.
Will South Africans ever be happy with their country’s Olympic team uniforms? Who knows. All I know is it could be worse, they could have uniforms like Italy.
Well, there’s always the next Olympics…
Written by Genevieve Lobban