SOCHI, Russia ― Ask any Olympic athlete, and you'll hear that there is a price to pay for reaching the top. But in the case of figure skaters, that price is often exorbitantly high just to put a shirt on their backs.
Take, for example, the men's figure skating competition here at the Sochi Games. Skaters wore a wide array of high-end costumes. Some were sleek. Some were shiny. Some had so many rhinestones that you had to blink. And one, in the case of gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, was even designed by Johnny Weir. All were fiercely expensive, some costing up to $3,000.
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Even the most fashion-savvy gentleman may be unlikely to drop that kind of change on a single piece of gear, but for figure skaters, the chance to shine in the sartorial stakes is seen as part of the competition.
What hurts the wallet can help the final score, or at least so the perception goes. Luxury fabrics, sparkly jewels and expert design are all part of the package, along with toe loops and quad jumps ― or attempts at them.
When Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic walked through the interview zone after his long program on Friday, which was good enough for 11th place, he noticed a tiny mark on his costume. "Not good," he muttered before looking up and smiling ruefully.
Verner's costume was designed by James Scott, whose main job is producing clothing and outfits for Broadway productions in New York. Verner is willing to pay whatever it takes to have Scott make him look good.
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"He put tons of ideas on a piece of paper, and then I go and consult the reasoning behind it with him," Verner said. "I give him my feelings and emotions and feedback. Then we create it together. For me it is really easy, and for him it is very challenging.
"For one costume it is in the thousands of dollars. It goes up to $3,000 a piece. If you go and you want to compete at the high level, it is really worth it."
"It is expensive but you need to do it," added Verner, the 2008 European champion. "It really makes a difference to how you look when you are moving across the ice. The judges and the fans see it and notice it. It is part of the act and all part of the performance."
France's Florent Amodio spent 800 Euros (around $1,100) on his outfit for the short program and said he felt lucky not to have had to splash out more cash.
"To most people, it must seem like a huge amount of money, and it is, of course," Amodio said. "But I thought this was quite reasonable, especially when you compare it to what other people have spent, especially the women."
Dresses for the ladies' competition regularly stretch to $5,000 or more, reflecting the higher cost of women's fashion in general. While successful figure skaters can make good money from endorsements or shows, most competitors find the high costs for costumes to be a burden.
Belgium's Jorik Hendrickx saved money by having his coach, a trained designer, make his costume herself. The materials and stones cost nearly $1,000, but without his coach charging for the manual labor, his costume that featured a flame-like design would have totaled more than double that figure.
For Sweden's Alexander Majorov, the solution lay in accepting a deal from H+M. The clothing company designed and manufactured his outfits in return for the associated publicity. Majorov estimated his outfits could have cost $1,500 each, otherwise.
Overall, the men's costumes for these Games were more classical and less gimmicky than in Vancouver, where one skater dressed as a skeleton and another as a sailor. One skater even took to the ice clad in overalls. It all made Johnny Weir seem conservative.
"This time, the guys took less risks," said Yahoo Sports analyst Elvis Stojko. "It was all a lot more streamlined. If the music they skate to is more classical, that is going to be reflected in the outfits.
"But they are still very expensive, and often someone will wear it for only one season. And if you have a bad performance or it isn't received well, you might feel you want to change it. And all that money is gone."
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