For a few weeks during the 1976 Montreal Olympics I became obsessed with Finnish athlete Lasse Viren.
I was 10. It was his kit that fascinated me, in particular the royal blue Onitsuka Tiger shoes he raced in and which he can be seen holding aloft in a photo taken after his victory in the 10,000m. So while my mum sat up watching David Wilkie swim his way to gold, I dreamed of trainers and shorts and stylish tracksuits with trouser legs you could unzip to make massive flares.
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It explains a lot, I know.
As it happens, Viren's stunt nearly got him banned from the final of the 5000m. The International Olympic Committee thought it smacked too much of advertising. What a change from this summer's Olympics, which will be hedged around by more corporate and commercial branding than you could shake a sweaty sock at. I wouldn't be surprised if Coca-Cola even try to sponsor those surface-to-air missiles the MoD plans to scatter round the place like beanbags at an orgy.
As for me, I never did get a flared tracksuit or a pair of Olympic quality trainers. They weren't that easy to come by in the 1970s. For footwear I had to make do with whatever the Army and Navy store had in stock: Gola if I was lucky, no-name plimsolls held together by rank-smelling glue if I wasn't.
But if I was 10 today things would be different. I could have my fill of replica-style kit and Olympic-themed leisure wear made by everyone from Bosco, currently gearing up for a major marketing push in the UK, to Adidas. Irony of ironies, Ralph Lauren has even designed an upmarket range inspired by the 1948 Games, the so-called "Austerity Olympics". Go figure.
As for the athletes themselves, they'll be clad in the sort of designer gear more often seen on catwalks. The Italian kit has been made by Prada and Georgio Armani, while the Americans will attend the opening and closing ceremonies in preppy white courtesy of yet more Ralph Lauren. Stella McCartney has done the British uniforms and another daughter of rock royalty, Cedella Marley, has designed the kit Usain Bolt and his Jamaican team-mates will wear. She's taken her style influence both from her father, Bob Marley, and that other colossus of Jamaican music, Grace Jones.
At the 1948 Games, British 100m sprinter Dorothy Manley won silver in a vest and shorts combo her mum had run up on a sewing machine. Even by 1976, there was little enough styling around to make Lasse Viren's kit look flash. Today there's so much background noise in terms of logos and sponsors that I don't think anything will stand out, which is a shame. There's nothing to covet because everything is available.
Mind you, if Cedella Marley has tapped into Grace Jones' penchant for big shoulder pads and boob tubes, at least the track and field events should be amusing. n