Was One Skier's Underwear Too Slick?

Jan 18, 2012
Originally published on January 18, 2012 7:27 pm

When Slovene World Cup Alpine skier Tina Maze opened her racing suit Sunday to reveal her sports bra beneath to all those looking on in Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, it wasn't some kind of sexy strip show or joyous Brandi Chastain type of moment.

It was a protest.

Over a fuss being made about her underwear.

Not the bra, mind you, or the words she had written on it: "Not your business."

Rather, the message she wanted to send was that skiing authorities shouldn't be worried about whether the full body stocking she had worn under her suit during a previous race — when she came in second — gave her some sort of special advantage.

But there is indeed controversy over whether that underwear, which generated a complaint from the Swiss ski federation and has been confiscated and tested, might somehow have made Maze just a tiny bit less wind resistant than her competitors. It seems, as The New York Times has explained, that the material in the underwear contained some plastic. If that helped keep any wind from passing through her suit and instead sent it around her, Maze might have gotten a bit of an advantage.

And in the supercompetitive world of World Cup Alpine skiing, every miniscule bit of time is precious, as SKI Magazine editor in chief Greg Ditrinco explained earlier today to All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.

"The difference between first place and fifth place can be a matter of hundredths of a second," Ditrinco said.

So far, tests seem to show that Maze's suit was permeable enough to be allowed, the International Ski Federation has said. But its officials still want new, clearer rules on what is and isn't acceptable.

More from Robert's conversation with Ditrinco is due on today's All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast interview to the top of this post.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Our next headline comes from a sports bra - literally. The words not your business were written in black ink on the sports bra of Slovenian skier Tina Maze. On Sunday, while waiting to compete in the World Cup Super-G Race, Maze dropped her suit to reveal that message. It came in response to an uproar in the world of international competitive skiing over Maze's choice of underwear. Specifically, she had been accused of wearing a sort of full-body sheath with plastic parts that her accusers say might give her an unfair advantage on the slopes.

For more on the flap, we're joined by Greg Ditrinco, editor in chief of SKI Magazine. And, Greg, let's start with the underwear. It's now been tested. What is it exactly?

GREG DITRINCO: Well, apparently, it is a full-body stocking. And in all competitive sports, there are regulations on equipment, and in competitive skiing, what you wear is a piece of equipment. So essentially, she's being accused of something no different than doping. It's about clothing. It's not as intrusive as doping, but she is accused of having an unfair advantage because of what she's wearing.

SIEGEL: But she's wearing this under other garments. How could she benefit from what's underneath her pants and her top?

DITRINCO: Sure. Good question. In competitive skiing, the difference between first place and fifth place can be a matter of hundredths of a second. In a downhill course, the racers can hit 70, 80 miles an hour, so you can imagine the advantage of even a little bit of wind resistance can do. It can literally move you up the ranks from a - someone off the podium to someone on the podium winning a medal.

SIEGEL: Even though the wind in question would have to first go through her outer clothing for her inner clothing or underwear to be an issue in terms of how much resistance there would be.

DITRINCO: Sure. I think the best way to think about this is remember the suit - swimsuit controversy back at the Beijing Olympics.


DITRINCO: There was a big huff about that - pretty much the same thing. You can almost consider a skier's undergarments to be like a swimsuit, and the effect is exactly the same, whether you're going through wind or whether you're going through the water. It's all about going faster, less resistance, faster you go and more frequently you win.

SIEGEL: Well, for now, it seems that Tina Maze was not in violation of any rule when she wore this. That's been established. But what can we expect in the future?

DITRINCO: You have to realize in competitive skiing, the ruling group, which is called the FIS - Swiss based - has regulations on absolutely everything - what you're skiing on, your skis, your boots, your bindings, the clothes you wear. And I expect the FIS fairly quickly will make a general rule on undergarments - how big they can be, full suits, not full suits and, more importantly, exactly the material that can - they can be made of. It does give a true competitor advantage with these wind-resistant undergarments. So the FIS will take this seriously, will get themselves together around a big table, and they probably will make a ruling fairly shortly.

SIEGEL: One way to go would be to say everybody could buy wind-resistant undergarments. So make it legal for everyone.

DITRINCO: They tend more than to allow everyone to do it. FIS is a fairly conservative group. What they tend to do is they tend restrict rather than expand. They have a history of that. It doesn't mean they will do that, but in general, I would be guessing that they tend to restrict things rather than open it up to more open interpretations.

SIEGEL: Now, I visited the very entertaining website of Energiapura, the Italian firm that evidently makes the controversial garment. I would think they have a lot riding on this.


DITRINCO: I say it's a safe bet that there will be a bunch of European magazines with comely ladies modeling these shortly in spreads - no question about it.

SIEGEL: OK. That's Greg Ditrinco, the editor in chief of Ski magazine, speaking to us from Boulder, Colorado. Greg, thanks a lot for talking with us.

DITRINCO: Thank you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.