Mystery Solved: What's with the U.S.'s big podium masks?

·2 min read

By this point, we're all too familiar with a wide variety of masks, from N95 medical-grade protection to homemade cloth-and-string creations. But as the U.S. ascends to the podium for medal after medal, viewers have spotted the team's, shall we say, distinctive masks.

Angular and blocky, with deep shadows and a complex pattern, the masks have drawn comparisons on Twitter to everything from dog muzzles to famed movie cannibal Hannibal Lecter to the Batman villain Bane, from "The Dark Knight Rises." 

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Turns out that there's no nefarious intent behind the masks, just the megacorporation Nike. The masks are called the "Nike Venturer," and they're designed for training ... although they're not quite at the protective level of N95 masks. 

The pattern on the masks is meant to evoke the Japanese art of origami, according to the company. The unique origami-inspired pleated design allows for optimal air flow and air volume within the lightweight, mesh mask,” Nike said in a statement to the New York Times. 

The entire mask-wearing performance at the Olympic podium has been more than a little ridiculous, given the distances involved during ceremonies as well as the close contact before and afterward. In recent days, Tokyo organizers have relaxed their rules somewhat, allowing winners to be unmasked ... for 30 seconds. 

If you'd like to re-create your own medal ceremony at home, the masks will be available "soon," according to Nike's website, at a cost of $60, Olympic medal not included. For that price, you'll want to keep it on. Maybe. 

Lee Kiefer of the United States, winner of the foil fencing event, poses in her mask. (Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)
Lee Kiefer of the United States, winner of the foil fencing event, poses in her mask. (Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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