US Olympic flag bearers to wear new cooling jacket

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The Team USA flag bearers in steamy Tokyo will likely be the coolest members of their packs.

Ralph Lauren has built a personal air conditioning system into a roomy white jacket to be worn by the yet-unannounced athletes who will have that honor during opening ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics, the company said Wednesday.

The technology disperses heat from the wearer’s skin through a fan device at the back of the neck, with a lightweight personal battery controller stashed inside. The technology is akin to how large computers are kept cool.

"The jacket is "infused with a modern technology that’s totally groundbreaking and an innovation that’s going to change the way we think about sustainability and think about our personal comfort," said David Lauren, Ralph Lauren’s son, vice chairman of the company’s board, and chief branding and innovation officer.

The rest of Team USA will walk in tailored navy blazers made of U.S.-grown wool, a red Olympic patch on one breast and the company’s Polo Pony emblem on the other.

They’ll wear a horizontal blue-and-white stripe T-shirt dyed in a process that uses less water, chemicals and energy, slim blue denim pants and a flag-print scarf.

The athletes’ stripe belts are made of recycled plastic water bottles. A patch on the back of the pants is a nod to leather alternatives, this one made of plant-based materials and agriculture byproducts free of synthetic plastics.

Team USA organizers wanted the athletes to "feel red, white and blue" at the world’s coming out party, Lauren told the AP ahead of the formal unveiling.

The sentiment comes amid a growing concern over the spread of COVID just days before the Games open July 23. The Paralympics are set to begin Aug. 24.

The cooling technology works off of "scientific technology and scientific theories that have been in existence for years," Lauren said via Zoom. "Putting it together and fuzing it into a garment that was pretty cutting edge and that we’re very proud of what we’ve created."

The parade uniforms were made in the United States. Ralph Lauren has been outfitting Team USA since 2008.

At a New York City Polo Ralph Lauren store, Olympians Daryl Homer and Peter Westbrook recently showed off the Tokyo looks for the AP, stressing comfort and recalling the thrill of their past marches with the American teams during the Parade of Nations.

Homer, a silver medal-winning sabre fencer, will be making his third Olympic appearance in Tokyo. In 1984, Westbrook was the first African American to win a medal (he bronzed) in the sport and served as flag bearer. He now trains Olympic fencing hopefuls.

"I know that this jacket is working… because when I push this button, I feel the air conditioner or the fan in my back and I can feel actually the breeze," Westbrook said wearing the white denim flag bearer jacket.

Westbrook recalled his Olympic walk as an overwhelming feeling of unity and pride.

Homer called the uniforms "very comfortable, very breathable." Though the much-discussed beret each American athlete received for the London Opening Ceremony in 2012 was one of his favorite Olympic pieces.

"On TV, you see the opening ceremonies is like a one hour ordeal, but it’s really an eight, nine hour thing, so you just want to feel comfortable and make sure you feel good," Homer said while wearing the navy blazer, striped shirt and flag scarf.

It was the London Games where Ralph Lauren took some heat for decking out the U.S. athletes in uniforms made in China.

The five-year stretch rather than the usual four between Olympics has been challenging for Homer, along with the pared-down fanfare and pandemic protocols planned for Tokyo, Homer said.

"Everyone’s really anxious to get out there to compete," he said.

"I think it’ll be a different Games, but it’ll be enjoyable in a lot of ways, too, and hoping to write really beautiful memories here," Homer said.