The Style Olympics

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Mongolian judo star B. Bat-Erdene marches in the "Parade of Nations"

After the horsemen, the stilt walkers, the fire eaters and the tap dancers, it was the turn of the athletes to show off their colors in the opening ceremony. The demands of fashion sit uneasily with the necessity to design a uniform that will suit every shape of athlete, from basketball player to gymnast to weight lifter. And the tension tells. The countries that do best in the clothing stakes are those that have a national dress — African countries, notably Nigeria, Lesotho and Swaziland, showed off their traditional clothing. Some teams compromised by sending out a couple of athletes in folk costume and the rest in what might easily pass for air crew uniforms. The handsome man in a short embroidered purple velvet coat and fairy-tale beautiful girl in cream silk and lace who led the Georgians only emphasized the dowdiness of the others on the team.

For everyone else style can be dangerous territory, as the Japanese demonstrated with their bizarre multicolored tie-dyed cloaks. The Austrians looked as if they'd prepared for the wrong Games and had come in their winter uniforms. The Russian and Polish teams seemed to have bought their wardrobes from the cheapest outfitters in downtown Smolensk or Gdansk. The winners in the fashion stakes were definitely, and hardly surprisingly, the Italians, who went for simple, classic style with a twist. Both men and women wore elegantly cut dark jackets over trousers or skirts in half a dozen bold colors. The ensemble effect was striking and bright while still looking classy.

But the most impressive outfit of the night was the smallest. The team from Mongolia was led into the arena by their flag carrier, heavyweight judoka B. Bat-Erdene, who simply wore a generous G-string.