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German gymnasts opt for uniforms that cover their legs

SARAH VOSS

Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Dolors Massot - published on 05/25/21

Opting for a leotard with more coverage helps these gymnasts feel more confident and comfortable while competing in championships.

Sarah Voss, 21 years old and the world champion in her discipline in 2019, participated in the recent European Artistic Gymnastics Championships held at the end of April in Basel, Switzerland. And she did so in a uniform that covered her legs.

This was not against the rules, although in the world of rhythmic gymnastics there is a kind of unwritten law against it. Until now, the only female athletes who’ve performed with their legs covered have done so for religious reasons.

The German Gymnastics Federation (DTB) supported Voss and spoke out against “sexualization in gymnastics.”

“We hope that gymnasts who are uncomfortable with the usual attire will feel encouraged to follow our example,” Voss stated.

Teammate Kim Bui, also from Germany, first performed in a conventional leotard. But she said they wanted to set an example as a team. So in her second performance on Friday, she also employed a uniform that covered her legs. 

Their teammate Elisabeth Seitz also joined in this groundbreaking decision: She said that wearing the full-body leotard means one less thing to worry about, as there’s no risk of accidentally revealing anything.

“All women want to feel good”

Voss explained her decision in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF:

“All of us women want to feel good in our skin. In gymnastics it gets harder and harder as you leave your girlish body. As a little girl, I didn’t see tight outfits as such a big deal. But when puberty started, when my period came, I started to feel more and more uncomfortable.”

The German Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation has stated that sports and gymnastics should be fields where athletes feel comfortable in their clothes at all times.

“Feel good and look stylish: Why not?”

On April 21, after her performance, the gymnast—considered one of the top 10 in the world—posted on her Instagram profile:

Unfortunately, my beam didn’t go as expected, but I’m still happy for the opportunity to participate here in these great European championships! It’s so much fun to be back on the podium and feel the adrenaline!

Also, I’m immensely proud to have been the first to present to our team this project from the heart! Feel good and look stylish: why not?

How do you like that?

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Sarah Voss (@sarah.vossi)

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) states that in competition a “one-piece leotard covering the legs from hip to ankle” may be worn, as long as it is of elegant design.

The three gymnasts have been praised for this courageous measure, which aims to protect women from sexualization and objectification. They held a press conference and claimed freedom to dress as the gymnasts see fit.

Elizabeth Seitz said that during training they all dress in full-body uniforms. That made them wonder why they couldn’t do the same during a competition.

The Netherlands Gymnastics Federation, for its part, said it found the move by the German gymnasts to be a positive one.

A particularly sensitive issue in the United States

The initiative by Sarah Voss and her team is a wake-up call regarding the respect that female athletes deserve. It also comes at a sensitive time, as the United States is still reeling from the scandal involving sports doctor Larry Nassar.

Nassar, former doctor of the US national gymnastics team, was convicted in 2018 for seven crimes of sexual assault on minors and three other crimes of sexual assault. Among those near him, former coach John Geddert was accused of turning his Michigan gym into a human trafficking center by forcing girls to train and then abusing them. Geddert committed suicide last February.

Gymnast Simone Biles, who in 2018 claimed to have been abused by Nassar, has announced that she will participate in the Tokyo Olympics this summer because she wants to give a voice to victims of such abuse.

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