PARIS - On Florent Amodio's road to the Winter Games, this is a momentous day: For the very first time, the 2011 European champion is trying on and is about to skate in the brand new costumes he will wear when he competes for Olympic gold on the ice in Sochi, Russia, next February.
If, that is, the pop-up buttons on the tail of his shirt would only co-operate.
"Dammit!" he mutters as he fiddles with the stubborn little beasts.
Eventually, their resistance breaks. He's ready. Well, almost. The trousers aren't perfect, either.
"I need to sew up the pockets," he says. "They look too big."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth story in a series exploring how an Olympian prepares — mentally, physically, athletically and otherwise — for the biggest rendezvous of a sports career. The Associated Press is periodically checking in with Amodio to track his progress toward the Sochi Olympics. In Part I, Amodio oozed confidence that he can win a medal. In Part II, he was laid low by a back injury. In Part III, he split from his coach and started work with a new one.
Let's be frank: it is hard to admire a skater in a hideous costume. In wanting to be original and stand out from the field, some skaters over-reach. For every wardrobe "wow," there's often also a "what the heck?"
Skating to a medley of James Bond music, Kim Yu-na could have knocked out 007 himself in the little black dress she wore on her way to gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games. But even a skeleton wouldn't want to be seen dead in the unholy combo of sparkly silver bones on black top and leggings that Belgium skater Kevin Van Der Perren wore. A top 10 of dressing disasters would also have to include German pair Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy looking like Barbie and Ken at the 2009 worlds, shiny purple suit for him, pink hot pants and knee-high stockings for her. Cringe.
Despite the pocket and button niggles, Amodio thinks his Olympic costumes hit the right notes. In years past, the French skater also has made some questionable fashion choices, notably including a tiger-stripe shirt with lime green collars and a black and red outfit with flaps and shoulder epaulettes that would have suited a Star Trek baddie.
But for his Olympic season, Amodio wanted "simple and sober."
"They're there simply to accompany the music. You see skaters with gigantic costumes. They don't know how to skate. What counts most is the work on the skates. And I have to be comfortable," he said.
For his tango-themed short program, he's gone for all black. The shirt of see-through material is studded front and back with glittering Swarovski rhinestones, as are the trouser legs. The neck is open and plunging. His seamstress helped with the designs.
"We sketched out some drawings," he said. "But I already had a broad idea of ... what ... I ... wanted," he added, struggling to speak as he wriggled into the skin-tight shirt.
Before Sochi, he'd better not add an ounce of weight.
"Otherwise, it would pop!" He joked.
Black gloves complete the look.
"I didn't want any colour, because I believe that it's for the skater, not the costume, to bring alive the emotions and to transmit them," he said. Black "fits my state of mind when I'm competing: straight for the target, no frills. The short program is very important. I can't afford any errors. A very classy costume without frills helps me stay focused."
The outfit has the instant effect of making him look taller and prouder. Like an actor getting into character, he puffed out his chest, lifted his chin and bent back his shoulders.
"It's not too bad. It's a bit tight around here," he said, poking at the trousers. "Let's go and see what the coach says."
First he clattered on his skates to a nearby washroom, ignoring the sign marked "women," to admire himself in a mirror.
On the ice, Amodio gave the outfit its first test-drive, shaking his hips, rotating his arms. Shanetta Folle, hired as Amodio's coach after he split from Nikolai Morozov this June, eyed him up and down. Both were satisfied.
The costume for his long program, to fit with its jazz theme, is very Gene Kelly — beige slacks pleated at the top, a sky-blue polo shirt with red piping on the arms, a red bow tie and red suspenders that Amodio uses to dramatic effect in his routine, yanking them off his shoulders with a salute at the end.
Outfits can help impress judges, he said.
"It's a complete package. The skater owes it to himself to be at his best technically and physically, with everything that relates to performance. But the whole spectacle side of things makes the beauty of our sport. That's why everything is done with millimetered precision. The costume has to be perfect."
"You have to show the best of yourself," he added. "There needs to be a shiny side that glitters in the eyes of the audience."
And how about looking after the costumes, Florent, can they only be dry-cleaned?
"I have no idea," he said. "I give them to my mother."
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