The Vest in International Athletics

Three Britains
1980 1500 metres final. Three Britain’s but not in the same vests

The vest worn in athletics is the briefest type of shirt to be worn. It is the simplest form of kit but its journey to where it is today has been far from straightforward. A look back at the Olympics games in the 20th century will find that the athletics vest to be worn by men and women did not fully occur until London 1948. Until this time the odd male competitor had been wearing a vest from the time of 1896 Athens Olympic Games, but it wasn’t until Berlin 1936 that all of the men were competing in vests. The vests were simply plain cotton and were nowhere near like the type of vest that is worn today. From 1948 advancements in technology resulted in manufacturers looking closely at the design of the vest and today’s vest is a technical vest.

Just simply looking at Great Britain’s athletics vest shows the changes the vest has gone through in recent times, regarding the material, the colour and the design. At one stage in 1952 some runners were still running in a string vest. The Great Britain vest barely changed between 1948 and Moscow 1980. The vest was plain white with simple red, white and blue hoops. It was made from stretch jersey fabric for both the man and women. Even in 1980 the vests would differ and in the 1500 meters Steve Cram’s included the union badge whilst Sebastien Coe’s and Steve Ovett’s vests didn’t.

In 1984 at Los Angeles a stripe down the side was incorporated and so began the vest changing design for virtually every championship. The colours became more daring and with the use of spandex there was now a closer relationship between shirts and shorts.

British sprinters in their uniforms
The 2017 British sprinters in their uniforms

The modern day international Great Britain athletics vest is produced as part of a huge financial deal with Nike. Prior to 2013 the vest had been produced by Adidas, but after a court room battle it was decided to go with Nike as part of a 7-year sponsorship deal worth around 15 million pounds to UK athletics. However, the British Olympic association still have a deal with Adidas, so they still produce the vests for Olympic Games. Adidas in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games hired Stella McCartney to design the vest.

The shirt courts controversy whenever it is unveiled for a new championship. The ladies now wear cut off tops exposing the lower mid-riffs. These shirts were first worn by Kelly Holmes in 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. In 2000 the vest suddenly became predominantly blue in colour but then in 2004 white made a return. In the 2015 World championships many athletes such as long jumper Greg Rutherford objected to the fact that the vest did not include the Union Jack badge.

One of the most recent changes has been the use of the uniforms by the sprinters. The all in one outfit is now tailor made for the individual sprinters needs. At the London 2017 World athletics Championships Great Britain won the 100 metres men relay gold medal in their Nike kit. The four sprinters wore the same coloured uniform but were all separately deigned for the individual’s personal preference. A closer look at the neck design reveals the major differences.

There have been huge changes in the athletics vest over the years. This has gathered pace as we have entered the 21st century and sometimes the picture of the modern-day athlete is a lot different from those from 100 years ago. However, it is reassuring that the greatest Britain of them all, Mo Farrah has won his haul of Olympic and World Championship gold medals wearing an ordinary athletics vest.