. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Team Flies Reebok Colors

ATLANTA -- Alexei Voropayev unzipped the bulging duffle bag and plunged his hand inside. "Oh, yeah!" the Russian gymnast exclaimed, pulling out T-shirts and shorts emblazoned prominently with the Reebok logo.

Other Russian Olympic athletes were not so thrilled; some looked befuddled, others perturbed as they lined up to receive their Olympic uniforms in the giant, air-conditioned tent where corporate giant Reebok is pushing its wares at the 1996 Atlanta Games. For the most part, however, the reaction was positive.

"It's good," said Alexei Nemov, one of Voropaev's teammates on the Russian gymnastics team, after getting a look at the red, white and blue warmup suit designed by Reebok. "I like it better than the old outfit."

The Russians showed up Sunday to be fitted for their Olympic uniforms at Reebok's gaudy monument to capitalism, a bubble-like structure constructed in a parking lot on the edge of downtown. It was a wholly American exercise in self-promotion, as the Russians walked around the room followed by TV cameras and notepad-toting reporters.

First, they picked out the shoes they wanted. Then they went to a back room to try on their uniforms. Then, finally, they marched up to the counter one by one to pick up their bags of goodies loaded with more Reebok apparel.

Some, like Voropaev, a member of gold medal-winning team at the Barcelona Games four years ago, reacted with the appropriate fervor of an excited capitalist. Others sat stone-faced, looking out of place in this new world order of self-promotion and product identity.

"It really depends on the personality," said Peter Tsanava, a spokesman for Reebok's Russian subsidiary. "Yesterday, the boxers were in here to get their uniforms. One boxer was standing there like this" -- Tsanava's face contorted into a frown -- "and he didn't know what to say. But another one was mugging for the camera and shadow boxing around the room."

The Russians are no longer the Big Red Machine. Their colors now are distinctly American -- both countries have red, white and blue national flags -- and their uniforms are designed with a stylish flair.

Instead of a bland red uniform with Cyrillic lettering slapped across the front, the new warm-up suit has the country's name written in English -- an obvious bow to Reebok's wishes -- but with a curved script to give it a Russian look. The "I" of Russia is dotted with a flame-like emblem that serves as the country's Olympic symbol.

"Their standards in terms of the technical quality is still very, very high, just like it was in the old days," Reebok spokesman Dave Fogelson said. "At the same time, they're thinking much more about being fashion conscious."

The Russians, strapped for money after the collapse of the Soviet empire, hooked up with Reebok in 1993. They made the deal in order to survive in the athletic arena, while the shoe and apparel company was looking to expand its global reach.