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A heated debate: Are U.S. 'powder blue' track uniforms lame?

By Eric DuVall
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A heated debate: Are U.S. 'powder blue' track uniforms lame?
Trayvon Bromell of the United States runs in a 100-meter qualifying race at the outset of track and field competition on day eight of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Online response to the U.S. track and field uniforms has been mixed, with some fans deriding the lack of stars and stripes and the shade of "powder blue." Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- For once, it's a red-versus-blue debate that has nothing to do with politics: Who wore it better, the U.S. track and field athletes in London or Rio?

The London Games saw U.S. track and field athletes clad in all red; this year, the skin-tight uniforms are nearly all blue. While fashion is fickle and Olympic beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the new blue has drawn some passionate responses both for and against on social media.

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Noticeably lacking from this year's uniforms, which detractors labeled a less-than-menacing "powder blue" are any stars or stripes.

The less-than-traditional look appealed to some fans.

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Several of the look took to Twitter to express their approval in a medium that wasn't even available four years ago: the flame emoji, implying the uniforms are hot.

The debate over the U.S. look goes beyond just the uniforms, however.A closer look at some athletes' apparel yields some interesting slights of foot.

Athletes who have signed personal endorsement deals with some shoe companies have been forced to camouflage competitors' brands in order to avoid violating their apparel contracts.

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While all U.S. track athletes bear the Nike swoosh on their chests because the sportswear giant is the official sponsor for the U.S. Olympic team, there is no single shoe provider for U.S. athletes in Rio.

In the $75 billion global athletic shoe market, companies compete nearly as hard as the athletes themselves to place their brand on the feet of winning athletes – and the athletes are often paid bonuses for winning performances at major national and international events.

For premier athletes competing in the Summer Games, that leaves a potentially lucrative deal with a shoe company hoping the world sees their brand cross the finish line first.

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That is, if the athlete actually decides to wear their shoes.

U.S. decathlete Jeremy Taiwo, for example, has a contract with shoemaker Brooks. Due to the wide variety of track events a decathlete must compete in, Taiwo uses eight different pairs of shoes, all tailored to performance in specific ways. Brooks, however, does not manufacture all the shoes he requires, so he also wears Nike, Adidas and Asics. To do so, The New York Times reports he must cover up the competing brands using elastic fabric, paint and athletic tape in order not to violate his contract with Brooks.

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"In terms of athletic performance, you have to have the right shoes to be able to meet your goals," Taiwo, 26, told the Times before the Games began. "And ultimately, you have to do well so you can get paid. If you make it, your shoes are largely responsible for that."

Some shoe companies permit athletes to wear a competitor's brand if there is a performance issue with its own gear. Other times, they simply don't notice.

But in some instances, athletes' shoes have become a public scuffle.

In 2012, U.S. javelin thrower Mike Hazle, who was signed with Nike, was photographed wearing a competitor's taped-over shoes when he won the national title. Hazle said the shoes Nike provided him under his contract were too narrow and actually caused a toenail to fall off, so he stopped wearing them.

Instead, he wore a competing brand borrowed from a fellow competitor with the logo taped over.

The plan worked without Nike's complaint until the photo of his winning toss appeared in Track & Field News. His foot was lifted off the ground, revealing the competing Chinese brand's logo on the heel.

Nike, according to the Times, exercised an option in Hazle's contract to prevent him from signing with a competitor, forcing him to wear their shoes while offering him only $10,000 for the deal with no chance of bonuses if he won national or international medals.

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