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Olympic gymnasts tired of being objectified swap leotards for bodysuits

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The German gymnastics team is attracting attention for more than its gravity-defying moves at this year’s Olympic games in Tokyo.

In an effort to prevent the sexualization of their bodies and the sport (and just feel comfortable while competing), the gymnasts traded in standard bikini-cut leotards for full-body unitards on Sunday during an Olympics qualifying round.

“We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear,” said Elisabeth Seitz, a 27-year-old German Olympics gymnast, before the qualifying event, according to Reuters.

Elizabeth Seitz, German gymnast, competes in the Tokyo Olympics in a unitard.
Credit: IRIS VAN DEN BROEK / Getty Images

German gymnast Pauline Schaefer-Betz wears a unitard as she flips upside down during the artistic gymnastics balance beam event during the Tokyo Olympic Games.

German gymnast Pauline Schaefer-Betz wears a unitard as she flips upside down during the artistic gymnastics balance beam event during the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Credit: IONEL BONAVENTURE / Getty Images

While bucking tradition, this is not the first time the German team has worn these full-body outfits, which reach their ankles. In April, they donned the bodysuits during the European championships, the Washington Post reported.

That move garnered the team widespread praise from other female gymnasts, according to Reuters.

The International Gymnastics Federation, the governing body of competitive gymnastics, allows gymnasts to compete in uniforms that cover or semi-cover their arms and fully obscure their legs, as long as the color matches their leotards, CNN reported. However, gymnasts have usually covered their legs in competition because of religious reasons, per Reuters.

Back in June, American gold medalist Simone Biles said she supported athletes being able to wear their preferred uniform, even if she’ll be sticking to the traditional leotard. “I stand with their decision to wear whatever they please and whatever makes them feel comfortable,” Biles said of the German gymnasts, according to the Associated Press. “So if anyone out there wants to wear a unitard or leotard, it’s totally up to you.”

Germany's Kim Bui shows off her moves in a unitard in a qualifying round of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Germany’s Kim Bui shows off her moves in a unitard in a qualifying round of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Credit: AFP via Getty Images

The unitards shouldn’t affect the athletes’ ability to perform at their peak condition.

“We also train in tights so we are used to the feeling,” said Kim Bui, a 32-year-old German Olympics gymnast, according to Reuters. “It is not that different between competition or training. It is comfortable and that is the most important thing.”

While the German gymnasts’ bodysuits didn’t break any regulations, the same can’t be said for the women’s beach handball team from Norway when they played in a separate competition. On Monday, the European Handball Federation fined each Norwegian female athlete on the team 150 euros ($177) each for wearing shorts rather than bikini bottoms during a game, the New York Times reported.

The federation requires female players to wear bikini bottoms with “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg.” However, male handball athletes can wear shorts.

The Norwegian Handball Federation offered to pay the fines, as has singer Pink.

“The European handball federation should be fined for sexism. Good on ya, ladies,” Pink wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

For the German gymnasts at the Olympics, they wanted to look good without feeling uncomfortable.

The team decided as a group to wear the bodysuit before the meet.

“We sat together today and said, OK, we want to have a big competition,” said Sarah Voss, a 21-year-old gymnast, reported the Associated Press. “We want to feel amazing, we want to show everyone that we look amazing.”

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