Czech Olympic Wellies stride to success

Photo: CTK

This weekend saw the Czech Olympic team pick up four more medals in London, including the first gold in this year’s Olympics. The Czechs achieved most of their successes of the past few days in the water, but even before the games began, the Czech team made a big splash in the world of fashion. At the Opening ceremony they paraded around the Olympic stadium in facetious wellingtons with umbrellas in hand. But for the creators of the Olympic opening outfits their success was not a given.

Photo: CTK
This year’s Olympics were dubbed early on as the most stylish sporting event in history. Designers like Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren and international labels such as Adidas, Prada and Fila showed off the gear designed for Olympic teams weeks before the opening. In this star-studded line-up, no one suspected that the Czech team will make a big impression. Nonetheless, the Czechs won over the audience at the Opening Ceremony not only with the elegant pattern and colors of their outfits, but even more with their witty accessories – appearing in low-cut wellington boots and carrying umbrellas with the same design. I spoke to Jiří Kejval, the Czech Olympic Committee’s vice-president for Finance and Marketing, who came up with the wellies idea, and asked him what inspired him.

“We wanted to be not like the others. We were thinking also about what would be funny and how we can be different. And, you know, the British they’re always talking about the weather, so we started talking about the wellingtons and the umbrellas. And with these ideas we came to Daniela Flejšarová and her studio.”

The pattern for the whole of the Czech Olympic kit was based on a painting called Amorpha by the famous Czech abstract artist František Kubka. The clothing Czech athletes took with them to London was a team effort, involving the Czech sportswear manufacturer Alpine Pro, members of the Olympic committee, some of the Olympians and designers. But having gotten little attention from the Czech press during the pre-Olympic presentations of the kit, its creators had little indication of how the outfits would be received. In fact, some openly negative feedback they had gotten before the opening left Daniela Flejšarová from design studio E.Daniely that created the outfits for the opening ceremony, unsettled.

Andrea Hlaváčková,  Lucie Hradecká,  Serena Williams,  Venus Williams,  Maria Kirilenko,  Nadia Petrova,  photo: CTK
“I was really a little bit nervous and I wished that it would rain for the opening, so that all of the people understand how it was meant – just as a little joke, very English.”

Some people at home did not at first understand the humor of making wellies part of the outfit and felt it was degrading to Czech athletes and the Olympic ceremony, as Jiří Kejval explained.

“The feedback in the Czech Republic was not good. People said that the wellingtons are more for the field, than for celebration like the opening ceremony. But the British have very similar sense of humor to the Czechs, and it was very well received from the very beginning. The people love it.”

In the end, the outfits hit the right note – both with the British audience and the Czech athletes. Women’s tennis doubles silver medalists Andrea Hlaváčková and Lucie Hradecká showed the wellingtons off at the medal ceremony on Saturday. Ever since the opening ceremony visitors have flocked to the Czech House in London to purchase their own pair of the popular footwear. But Mr. Kejval told me on Friday that the organizers did not originally expect them to be such a huge success.

Jiří Kejval
“We were not prepared for such high demand. Originally we made the wellingtons mainly for the athletes and only made several hundred extra pairs. But most of them sold out, so now we’re down to only very small sizes. We sold something around three hundred of them, and they were sold out within minutes.”

And as the Olympic games become as much about fashion as sport the next challenge for the Czech Olympic Committee will be to prepare for the Sochi games two years from now and create outfits that would be just as original as this year’s.