As we impatiently wait for the badass women of Team U.S.A. Gymnastics to do their thing at the 2016 Olympics so we can watch, awestruck, on our couches, there's some intriguing intel on what the ultra-flexible athletes will be wearing. The New York Times did a deep dive into what these athletes are expected to sport in Rio de Janeiro. Spoiler: We'll be seeing so many crystals on the likes of Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles. Since we don't have a visual yet, we'll let the figures do the talking: The number of Swarovski crystals sewn into each Team U.S.A. leotard has gone up from 184 (2008) to 1,188 (2012) to a whopping 5,000 sparkly gems in 2016. "We may have hit peak crystal," Kelly McKeown, executive vice president for design and corporate relations at GK Elite (the company that makes the gymnastics uniforms), told the Times's Vanessa Friedman. So, whom do we have to thank for this profusion of sparkles? That would be Márta Károlyi, the coordinator for the U.S. women's Olympic team since 2001: There's been a gradual but well-documented increase in uniform embellishment throughout her tenure. It started slowly, with Swarovski crystals sprinkled around the neckline, but it eventually snowballed as Károlyi demanded "more sparkle, more sparkle," according to McKeown. Part of the reasoning behind this shift was simple: Because the gymnasts are performing on such a large stage, a bedazzled leotard ensures that they stand out during their routines. Plus, the athletes truly love it. Samantha Peszek, who competed in gymnastics at the 2008 Olympics, told The New York Times that it plays into "the 'look good, feel good, do good' aspect" of performing. "It may sound trivial, but what you wear really matters," she continued. In Rio, U.S. gymnasts will choose from a selection of leotards (eight styles for women and six for men), according to Sports Illustrated. The uniforms were designed by Under Armour in conjunction with GK Elite — and while we haven't gotten a full look at the bedazzled spread, check out some sneak peeks at the athletes' Olympic wares on Instagram. The New York Times estimates that the ultra-embellished numbers — like the yet-to-be-revealed 5K crystal-emblazoned show-stopper — retail for about $1,200 each.
During the design process, aesthetics were a crucial consideration for the Under Armour team. And much like Károlyi believes, Adam Clement, senior creative director for team sports at Under Armour, thinks it can have an effect on performance: "It's judges sitting down and rating what they saw, and the outfit becomes a huge component of it," Clement, who served as the design lead on the gymnastics uniform project, told SI, adding that keeping an element of surprise was important and "does impact how [judges] rate the event." The most interesting takeaway from Friedman's piece, though, is why the gymnasts' uniforms are such a subject of fascination (as opposed to, say, the equestrians' garb) to begin with. Not only does this particular Olympic sport have an incredibly large audience, but it also has the largest commercial effect Stateside, with scores of aspiring — or even passive — gymnasts across the country emulating Team U.S.A. (GK Elite even has a patriotic capsule to commemorate this year's games.) For a comprehensive look at the evolution and gradual bedazzling of the gymnast leotard, head on over to The New York Times.