How nail art became an Olympic beauty ritual

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Written by Megan C. Hills, CNN

As Olympic sprinter Dina Asher-Smith crossed the finish line in the women’s 100-meter semi-finals, photos captured her glowing blue fingernails as she celebrated. It might have seemed like just another of Asher-Smith’s sleek competition looks, but a zoom in on her manicure revealed a meticulous recreation of a Japanese masterpiece: “The Great Wave of Kanagawa “from Hokusai.

The manicurist behind the manicure, Emily Gilmour, said the British athlete was “very involved” in the design process. The nails intentionally “celebrated” the host nation of the Olympics, she explained via email, adding, “She wanted a nod to Japanese culture.”

Dina Asher-Smith’s Great Wave off the Nails of Kanegawa by Emily Gilmour, seen at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Credit: Andrej Isakovic / AFP / Getty Images

At each edition of the Olympic Games, professional athletes are expected to act as their country’s spokespersons on the world stage. Audience scrutiny goes beyond athletic prowess to encompass their social media presence and physical appearance – nail art included.

Over the years, Olympic manicures have become a tournament ritual for some and a form of gentle diplomacy for others, whether it is following Asher-Smith’s lead in honoring the host nation or proudly wearing gel nail flags in a display of patriotism.

Clemilda Fernandes Silva of Brazil at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Clemilda Fernandes Silva of Brazil at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Gilmour believes bold manicures have become popular among athletes because they are “eye-catching” and a way to “express themselves, while their uniforms all match.” While showy manicures typically take a more playful or patriotic approach, Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro used hers politically at the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow, where she sported rainbow nails to protest against the Russian ban on so-called gay “propaganda”. After being told she was breaking the rules (the sport’s governing body warned Tregaro may have broken the event’s code of conduct), she repainted them red.
Manicures have become an increasingly common sight at the Games, with some organizing committees now holding nail salons in Olympic Villages where athletes live throughout the event. Despite coronavirus restrictions, a nail salon has always been set up for attendees in Tokyo this year, and athletes including American volleyball player Kelsey Robinson have shared tours of the space on TikTok.

Speaking to CNN Style via email from Tokyo, Robinson said the Olympic Village nail salons are incredibly popular. She added: “Sometimes it can be difficult to get a reservation for the day.”

A close-up of the gel nails that Emily Gilmour made for Team GB's Dina Asher-Smith, inspired by Hokusai

Close-up of the gel nails to press that Emily Gilmour made for Dina Asher-Smith of the GB team, inspired by “Great Wave off Kanegawa” by Hokusai. Credit: Emily Gilmour @emilysmakeupandnails

Olympic ritual

The Olympic nail tradition arguably began when Florence ‘Flo-Jo’ Griffith Joyner, an American team sprinter and mother of breathtaking manicures, brought her experience as a former nail technician to the track. . Her legendary performance at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which saw her break several records, also featured a manicure that made history: a set of nails adorned with crystals in red, white, blue and gold. They associated well with the three gold medals she won that year and may have inspired future Olympians to follow in her footsteps.
Speaking to CNN in 2012, more than a decade after Joyner’s death, her husband Al said: “Anytime you see a woman within 100 or 200 yards with makeup and nails, it’s Florence. . She did it in style and she did it with speed. “

Since then, nail art seems to have gained popularity among Olympians. “It’s a way for athletes to express themselves beyond their performance,” said Robinson,

In the case of Hong Kong Olympic swimmer Camille Cheng, it’s also a way to stand out beyond her uniform. “As swimmers we run with pretty standard caps, goggles and wetsuits,” she said via email from Tokyo. “I think getting my nails done adds a bit of my personality.”

The manicure inspired by the French flag of the printer Mélanie Couzy during the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.

The manicure inspired by the French flag of the printer Mélanie Couzy during the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. Credit: Tauseef Mustafa / AFP / Getty Images

Cheng’s hand-painted soft gel manicure featured the Olympic rings, the Japanese flag, and the bauhinia flower that appears on the Hong Kong flag. Hong Kong salon Tinted nail artist Nana Chan also created miniature swimmers battling the waves, made up of blue swirls and negative space.

“For these Olympics, I wanted Hong Kong to be represented, Japan (because it’s held in Tokyo), the Olympic rings and something related to water or swimming,” explained Cheng, who also participated. at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “We are proud to represent our country on the biggest sporting stage and we reflect it in our nails.”

Tinted founder Carroll Lee called it an “honor” to work with Cheng, while nail artist Chan said, “It was almost like Camille was bringing my spirit with her to compete in the Olympics. ”

Many other athletes took a patriotic approach to this year’s Games, including Swiss tennis player Belinda Bencic, who referred to her country’s flag with a red manicure, complete with a white cross on two accented nails, and 13-year-old Brazilian skater Rayssa. Leal, who painted every nail a shade of his national flag.
Others also opted for more subtle tributes: in apparent reference to the Japanese flag, Naomi Osaka painted her tips red and white, while French shooter Melanie Couzy wore a gray manicure accented with red, white and blue stripes.
Details of another design by Emily Gilmour for Dina Asher-Smith

Details of another design by Emily Gilmour for Dina Asher-Smith Credit: Emily Gilmour @emilysmakeupandnails

“Good Luck Talismans”

Other athletes wanted Olympic success through their nail art, some including British taekwondo athlete Jade Jones, painting gold medals and Olympic rings on toe and toe. It certainly paid off for Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who also had a gold medal painted on her fingernails as she won the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal last week.
Gilmour and Asher-Smith took a similar route for the Sprinter’s second set of nails, which featured Japanese cranes against the backdrop of pagodas, waves and cherry blossoms. Gilmour introduced the idea to Asher-Smith after discovering that the bird was a symbol of good fortune.

“I believe fingernails can be a form of luck,” Gilmour said. “To me nails are no different from having a lucky necklace or some other form of talisman.”

Serena Williams' American flag-inspired manicure at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Serena Williams’ American flag-inspired manicure at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Credit: Luis Acosta / AFP / Getty Images

Making sure the talismans stay put is another issue, however. For Asher-Smith’s elaborate designs, Gilmour created a set of “easily applied with nail glue” pressures, as they were best suited for high-intensity sports where “the nails may be under pressure.” ManiMe, a company specializing in adhesive gel nails that only take 15 minutes to apply, has also supplied similar products to the US Women’s Rowing Team in the recent past, with founder Jooyeon Song saying via email that the athletes “were looking for a nail solution that could withstand their grueling aquatic training program.”

For others, like Cheng, manicures have become a “pre-race ritual” and a form of self-care in the midst of intense training. “We work hard during the season and for me the fun part is running,” she said, adding, “I think getting my nails done is like a grooming session (and a way to). make it fun for hard work. “

Top image: Florence Griffith Joyner‘s nails and medals at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.



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