GB Short Track competition suits

Have you ever wondered how Short Track suits are designed and made to make our athletes as fast, flexible and efficient as possible? Here is a little insight in the history of our suits.

The GB Short Track training and competition suits are created by Sally Cowan Limited. Years of design expertise from creating patterns for high street chains to blue sky thinking for brands to prototyping across summer and winter Olympic sports makes Sally and her team the go to people for many sports today.

Following a successful 25 year career in fashion design, Sally became a self employed design consultant in 2004 working with brands and organisations including Woolmark, Umbro, and a spin off Company from Loughborough University- Progressive Sports Technologies . It soon became apparent that what people actually wanted was garment prototyping as well as design. Many companies in this field had moved offshore and Britain was losing that expertise and access. Research and development was and still is very much in demand for forward thinking brands and organisations.

This first step into the world of sport with Progressive Sports Technologies and its contacts progressed to a lead with UK Sport,  and although sport wasn't Sally’s background, she was given the opportunity to work with them in 2005.

Her first project was for GB Archery, reviewing the shirt they were then wearing, and developing a new design for both the mens and womens team. Sally sees this now as her trial to see if she could deliver in sport, and it turns out successfully. It led to her working with the British Cycling team in 2006 ahead of the Beijing Olympics. With this team, it was clear there were many different requirements, opinions and ideas to work though and develop, but ultimately British Cycling wanted gains for being faster on the bike and this is what Sally could help bring to life,  through design to prototype to creation.

Success followed for the Cycling team in Beijing 2008, and Sally’s work with UK Sport and in turn the English Institute of Sport was to continue. Attention from summer sports turned to winter sports for Vancouver 2010 and looking at ways the Skeleton and Short Track teams could become faster, more streamlined, and more efficient. For Short Track then the focus for the skin suit development was not just aerodynamics but also manoeuvrability.

It was then back to summer sports ahead of 2012 adding Canoeing onto the growing lists of sports. At every cycle, the lessons learnt and best methods have been put into the next Olympics. Additionally rules are updated about different materials and alternative solutions have to be found.

PyeongChang is Sally’s sixth Olympics and she and her team (4 in total) have been working with Short Track, Skeleton, Slalom and Cross Country in the build up to 2018.

Thinking outside of the box is Sally’s ethos, the team regularly visiting fabric fairs and considering textiles used in other industries such as the medical industry. Excellent pattern cutting skills as well as garment prototyping allows maximum experimentation. Boundaries are pushed to the maximum to see what athletes can handle, then refined and tailored back later to remain within the strict guidelines of the sport.

For the Short Track team, a range of sizes of suits are created and graded. Athletes are then fitted into their nearest size before alterations (with marker pens and pins!) are made for that individual. It’s a bespoke fit, and if fabrics are altered then its re-fitting. Each athlete then receives an unbranded suit for training to get used to the feel and provide further feedback before the actual competition suits are made and branded up with logos.

Sally relies on the feedback from the athletes who are naturally in tune with their bodies and able to articulate what does and doesn’t work for them. Every athlete is different and there is often a need to change something, or a problem to be solved on an individual basis.

Notable difference between Short Track and other sports such as cycling is the dynamics and movement. There is movement through the whole body in Short Track and many different positions, so the suit has a lot of work to do, from compression to flexibility to maintaining its fit. Additionally because of the conditions and nature of the sport of Short Track a cut proof layer is necessary to wear under the suit. Prior to  2010, the cut proof layer was built into the suit, however this has changed over the years with many athletes preferring the separate system. Some athletes choose the cut proof base layer themselves whilst others have a bespoke design made by Sally’s team.

The training suits for PyeongChang 2018 Olympics were revealed at the Team GB Kitting out day on 22nd January 2018.