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Behind the Scenes of Creating the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Official Sportswear

As the host nation, Japan’s official sportswear for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is bound to draw the attention of the world, especially when the athletes step up onto the podium. We asked what makes the uniform special and what sort of hopes and dreams were threaded into its production.

Expressing Diversity in a Single Team

The official sportswear for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games was made by ASICS, a Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Gold Partner. ASICS has single-handedly prepared all the items to be worn by the athletes, from the sportswear itself to the shoes, just as it did for the Rio 2016 and the PyeongChang 2018. In total, the uniform consists of 16 items and the specifications are, in general, the same for Olympians and Paralympians alike. The podium jackets, which will be worn by the athletes during award ceremonies, feature either the Japan Paralympic Committee (JPC) emblem or the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) emblem on the chest. However, since the base circle design is the same, the two uniforms look no different when viewed from a distance.

Junichi Kawai (right), chief of the Japanese delegation to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, said he is grateful that the logo and emblem were made so that athletes with visual impairments can touch and feel them.

“The shapes of the emblems used to be different for Olympians and Paralympians of the Japanese delegation, but this time we proposed making the base circle the same to emphasize a sense of being one team. Both the JPC and JOC agreed to this proposal,” said Takahiro Yamabe, a member of the ASICS Strategic Planning Team Task Force for Tokyo 2020, who was in charge of planning the official sportswear.

The base design for the emblems is also the same for other items such as polos and T-shirts. The Nagano 1998 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games was the first time both the JPC and JOC prepared the same sportswear for Olympians and Paralympians, but it was not until Rio 2016 that all the other items and accessories sported the same design.

The unveiling of the official sportswear for the Japanese delegation to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games was held in February.

From a distance, the uniforms look the same to emphasize the sense of being one team, but up close, the designs on the T-shirts, polos and windbreaker jackets differ just slightly from one to another. The differences lie in the graphics of the sportswear that reflect aspects of traditional Japanese culture, such as origata (method of folding Japanese paper to wrap gifts) and kasane no irome (layering of kimono colors). These small differences express diversity, which is one of the themes of the Tokyo 2020 official sportswear. Normally, the placement of the graphics and where they get cut off are all the same, but that was not the case this time. This allowed ASICS to make greater use of a single bolt of fabric, which led to reduced fabric loss.

This style of designing was also used for the T-shirts sold commercially to people who will be cheering the athletes on. Each one has a slightly different graphic.

ASICS has been in charge of the official sportswear since Rio 2016. That year, the theme was “CONNECT”—connecting to Tokyo.

Incorporating Opinions from the Para-athletes

For para-athletes, the source of their physical impairments and severity vary depending on the sport. As such, they may find it easier to wear items that are prepared specially for them. This was a topic that was repeatedly discussed at ASICS.

“We decided to ask the para-athletes themselves,” Yamabe said. “For Rio 2016, when we measured all the candidates for their sizes, we asked them what they thought. An overwhelming number of them said they wanted to wear the same uniform as everyone else; they wanted to wear uniforms with cool designs.”

At the unveiling, athletes showed the press the sportswear’s zipper, which is easy to open and close. Athletics athlete Atsushi Yamamoto (left) said, “I want to step up onto the podium wearing this uniform, which carries everyone’s hopes.”

The new zipper construction allows the wearer to snap the two sides together with one click and a loop is also attached to make it easy to hook with a finger. The process of making the jacket included having the athletes actually try it on and asking whether they could put it on and take it off easily.

Sandals are the newest addition to the lineup this time, but they include heel straps so that athletes with prosthetic feet can wear them without them slipping off. Such consideration to even the smallest details in each product stems from ASICS’s universal design approach.

At the press unveiling, wheelchair rugby player Kae Kurahashi said, “Our sleeves often get dirty because of the wheels, but this uniform camouflages it well.”

Brimming Not Just with Functionality but Also the Hopes and Dreams of People Across the Country

Conditioning was another crucial aspect to consider when developing the sportswear since the athletes’ performances depend on it. Since the Games will be held in Tokyo during the height of summer, ASICS went to great lengths to develop a design that can keep the athletes’ bodies cool. They did this by combining large and small mesh materials to enhance breathability. Furthermore, they used thermal mapping technologies to determine which areas of the body are easily heated and designed a structure called ACTIBREEZE-TECH to effectively cool those areas down. With these new designs and structures, the podium jacket for Tokyo 2020 boasts around five times the breathability of the Rio 2016 training jacket. Since some para-athletes have lost the physical ability to adjust body temperatures due to their impairments, ensuring a high level of breathability was of paramount importance.

The uniforms boast enhanced breathability with mesh materials to support the athletes’ conditioning.

On the other hand, “Too much mesh can make the jacket look transparent and flimsy, which would take away from its sense of strength,” said Yamabe. “Since the jacket represents the host nation, we wanted it to exude pride and confidence. So we created a double-layered structure to prevent it from appearing transparent while also enhancing its design.” This struck a balance between excellent breathability and a strong-looking appearance.

ASICS’s dedication to the material also went beyond functionality and design. The company asked people across Japan to send their old sportswear that were special to them. These were then recycled into threads as part of the ASICS REBORN WEAR PROJECT and sewn into the official uniforms. This project reflects another one of the themes for the official Tokyo 2020 sportswear, which is sustainability. At the same time, it is an initiative that allows everyone who is cheering the athletes on to feel like they are a part of the Olympics and Paralympics too.

“We received a lot of sportswear that were special to the people, like those they wore to past national championships. They each had a unique story to tell, like the sportswear that someone wore when they participated in their first-ever national championship, or a cheerleading uniform that someone always wore when they were cheering on a team. Instead of using just any recycled material, we wanted to produce an official sportswear filled with the dreams and hopes of those who are cheering the athletes on.” The resolve and dedication were clear to hear in Yamabe’s voice as he said this.

text by TEAM A
photo by X-1

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