This Unlikely Insect Inspired Nike's Team USA Olympic Uniforms

by Emily Arata

In just one month, the most sensational athletes in the world will go head to head in Rio de Janeiro's Olympics 2016. If you're an American athlete, you'll hit the track or court in a Nike-designed kit inspired by the smallest, but toughest, of creatures: a Brazilian beetle.

According to Michelle Miller, Nike's Olympic senior concept director, the challenge to make a lively, vibrant national statement began just after the London Olympics concluded in 2012. Her team scoured Brazil seeking inspiration, bringing in photos and art that got their creative gears whirring.

Deep in the Amazon, they found a humble little insect with an awesomely iridescent shell. They had their muse.


During Nike's Olympic reveal last week, Miller explained:

Those shells, when you look at them under a microscope, they're made out of ridges, right? The same kind of structure that you see here. The ridges are colored differently on each side, and that's how it shifts color when you look at it. So we used that idea in engineering [the kits].
Kylah Benes-Trapp

The idea manifests itself in several ways. In the brand's knit medal stand kit, which every American athlete will wear while receiving his or her much-coveted gold, red thread runs underneath the top layer's classic navy blue. In the light, the two colors create a “shimmer" of dynamic color that breathes new life into the old red, white and blue.

And you won't just see the flashy shade on uniforms, either. The color is also present in the soles of Nike's ultralight Olympic sneakers. The team collaborated with Jamaican Olympian Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the reigning champion of the 100-meter sprint. Because sprinters force all their weight into the soles of their shoes, it's difficult to find one that won't crack under the pressure.

Using a specially-designed computer algorithm and 3D-printing to tweak early models of the sneaker, Nike created an ultra-hard, extra-light Olympian sneaker called the Nike Zoom Superfly Elite. It looks like something an alien might wear in “Star Trek.” From Team USA, Allyson Felix will wear a version of the same line (the Zoom Superfly Flynit) as she sprints the 400 meter race.

Kylah Benes-Trapp

And, most importantly, the design team brought back the beetle's shiny shell.

Brett Schoolmeester, Nike Running's innovation director, said the team even relies on a specialized technique to paint the sneaker.

He explained,

The way we've colored this [shoe], it's called a multi chrome effect, and we do it through vapor deposition. So this plate is placed in a chamber with colored vapor swirling around and it attaches itself to the plate.

Space age techniques and insects — this is basically a nerd's dream. It's certainly far from the beetle's humble beginnings in the dirt of Brazil.

When you watch Team USA hurtle down the track and take the gold this August, remember: The littlest things can inspire greatness.