The 2016 Olympic games kick off this week, and the women’s gymnastics events — some of the most-watched competitions of the entire games — will start Sunday, August 7. (Set the DVRs now because seriously.) And every time we watch these dazzling, delightful tumbling athletes, we have to wonder, what exactly is going on over there? Who decides their leotards for the individual competitions? What is the deal with the scrunchies? Are they ever allowed to wear jewelry?
We had a million unanswered questions, so we turned to 2008 Olympic Individual All-Around Gold Medalist Nastia Liukin for the answers. This year, she’s headed to Rio to broadcast her commentary about the gymnastics competition for Team NBC. Before she headed south, she downloaded all the fashion and beauty rules for what’s actually allowed (like earrings) and not allowed (like wedgies) on the competition floor.
1. Your leotard should show off your personality.
“For the individual events, you will always have the American flag on your sleeve but this is where you can show your personality a little bit more. You can’t have weird low cut in the front or anything like that. But beyond the actual like design and the colors, there are no real rules. Pink was my favorite color, so that’s why I wore it. You definitely want to feel confident in the way you look because when you’re on the balance beam, confidence is the most important thing.” (For how to look totally confident in a leotard, see 2016 team member Simone Biles, below.)
2. You must pick your leotard by modeling for Coach Marta Karolyi before the Olympics.
“Before every competition we do a little fashion show in the hotel or the [Olympic] Village and it’s with Marta and all of our coaches. We all have to try on the same leotard and we march down the hallways as if it’s a runway and that’s how we figure out which leotard we’re wearing for the team competition. Then we do it for the individual competitions so they see what looks best and what we feel most confident in. I remember when I put on the pink leotard, I started smiling and I didn’t even realize it and Marta and the coaches were like, ‘You look like you feel really happy and confident in that leotard so you’re going to wear that one for the all around finals.’ That [tradition] happens every time. For the Olympic Games they will do that.”
3. Don’t pick a wedgie — you’ll lose points.
“You’re not allowed to [pick a wedgie] or else you get deducted. So a lot of people use like sticky spray [called TuffSkin] for your butt so your leotard doesn’t move. I’ve never used it and I know most of the girls don’t really use it, though we use it for our wrists before we put tape on underneath our grips because we’re sweaty and it’s a little extra stick. But if you have a fall and your leotard goes up your butt, you don’t want to fix it in the middle of your routine. Off to the side, it’s totally fine.”
4. Don’t let your bra and underwear show (and yes, gymnasts wear them!).
“No there isn’t [a built-in bra and underwear on the leotards] so we have to wear our own. We normally find a nude sports bra. The leotard company makes them so they’re briefs just like nude briefs and then a nude sports bra. By the end of the day you can’t wait to take it all off because it’s really tight and you’re spending a lot of hours in it. But it is a deduction if your bra strap is out so you have to look after that. It’s a lot to think about.”
5. Earrings are the only jewelry you can wear.
“You can only wear earrings. Nothing else. It’s not allowed, but also you don’t want to get in the way of anything that you’re doing. Like when you’re on the uneven bars you can’t be wearing a ring because you just can’t. I always used to have these diamond studs that I wore for every competition that my parents gave me. It was kind of good luck. I know Aly Raisman wears some earrings that are red, white and blue (see above). She wears those for every competition and that’s her thing. I think some athletes don’t want to wear anything — no earrings I mean. So it’s really just a personal preference.”
6. Your coach will tell you what kind of nail polish is allowed.
“For every country, it depends on what your head coach likes, and what they don’t like. I’m pretty sure [U.S.A. head coach Marta Karolyi] prefers us not to really have a bright red or a bright blue or pink or purple. I think something subtle was always good. I always had like a light, light, light pink on my toenails and then nothing really on my nails. You’re also gone for over a month and typically you don’t have time to go get a manicure when you’re training every single day for seven hours.”
7. You should pack the most jumbo-size bottles of beauty products.
“We pack the biggest bottle basically of shampoo, conditioner, and hairspray. In the Olympic village there really isn’t shampoo and conditioner. I think we’re all pretty particular to what we like. We typically bring our own stuff. We’re away for about a month. In Beijing, for instance, we were there for two weeks of just training before the first day of competition even started. Then the competition lasts for two weeks. It’s spread out. Before the Team Finals and All-Around Finals, we have a qualification round. Before that we have podium training, which is training on the podium. Then, of course it’s the time change and getting acclimated to all of those things. That’s why we go early. And before we even go to Beijing we have a training camp down at the ranch in Texas for about a week to two weeks.”
RELATED VIDEO: Meet the 5 Gymnasts Headed to the Rio Olympics!
8. Hair must be out of the face.
“There are no real rules besides it has to be out of your face. I don’t even know if that’s a rule, but I remember for me when I was on the balance beam — it’s four inches wide — you don’t want any distractions. That’s why a lot of gymnasts keep their hair short or they put it in a bun because you don’t want a long ponytail flipping over and hitting you in the face while you’re doing flips and you’re trying to find the beam. That’s never any good.”
9. It’s OK to have superstitions about your hair.
“For me I always did the exact same thing. I had a little poof thing in the front just because I didn’t want to be completely slicked back. And then I had one lucky clip that had Swarovski crystals on it and that one always went on the top in the front of my hair. I always wore a matching scrunchie. I probably wouldn’t wear a scrunchie now. I never wore ribbons in my hair but a lot of the girls wore ribbons (see Madison Kocian below). It’s really just whatever you feel comfortable with and whatever works for you and whatever you’re superstitious with.”
10. Bold lips are permitted — and more popular than ever.
“You are allowed to have lipstick on. In the last two Olympics, they’ve really stepped it up. I’ve seen a red leotard with a bright red lip. None of us did that in 2008. Now the girls now are starting to wear a little bit more makeup and I think some of them are a little bit older than maybe we were so you’re a little more aware in wanting to look good.”