Julien Magalhães humorously recounts the origins of seven sports equipment

Julien Magalhães in the episode “The Cycling Shorts” of his documentary mini-series “The Stuff of Athletes”. TV5MONDE/URBANIA PRODUCTIONS


Seven, like the seven sports equipment that have marked their discipline – Olympic – and whose origins the impertinent Julien Magalhães, author and professor of fashion and costume history, tells us in The Fabric of Athleteshis new mini-series, in seven episodes – seven minutes long –, based on the model of his Stilted visits in 2023.

Dressed in a loose blue tracksuit, the young man puts himself on stage with humor and derision, to explain to us, for example in the first episode, how spiked shoes revolutionized running – or not: the Ethiopian Abebe Bikila (1932-1973) won the marathon at the 1960 Rome Games running barefoot.

All the information and many anecdotes are rigorously accurate. The staging, on the other hand, assumes a parodic tone, including during the scientific interventions of Florence Bally-Le Gall, teacher-researcher at the Institute of Materials Science in Mulhouse (Haut-Rhin). The latter lends herself to the game – « Oui, [l’experte] it’s me ! “ – to answer the seemingly absurd questions of his interlocutor: how does a cheetah’s leg work? Do you swim faster naked? What is the best equipment for crashing into a brick wall at 70 km/h?

Short and dense formats

Conceived as interludes that are nibbled at, these short, dense and enjoyable formats can ultimately be watched in one go, one story leading to another.

So in The Fencing Swordthe viewer switches from French, “official and obligatory language for the arbitration of international competitions”to the bas-reliefs attesting to the use of bladed weapons in the Egypt of Ramses III. Certainly due to lack of time, it is not specified, however, that the last duel in France, on April 21, 1967, pitted the mayor of Marseille Gaston Defferre against the Gaullist René Ribière.

Change of era and look in Skater Style with skateboard, Olympic discipline since the Tokyo Games in 2021, not without causing a split among skaters. The purists of this practice, born in the 1970s in the Dogtown district of Los Angeles and synonymous with freedom, do not accept having to comply with rules. For them, participating in the Games is selling one’s soul.

Female figures

Behind the lightness of form, Julien Magalhães systematically denounces violence (such as that which led to the cancellation of the 2022 judo tournament for 10-12 year olds), racial and gender discrimination, and promotes female figures, such as judoka Keiko Fukuda, in The Judo BeltA student of the master and founder of this martial art, Jigoro Kano, she would become the only female tenth dan (black belt), before dying in 2013, at the age of 99.

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Lighter, The cycling shorts gives pride of place to chamois leather and Jeannie Longo. Tennis Outfit is, itself, underpinned by the various evolutions of feminine clothing, from the white pleated skirts of Suzanne Lenglen, designed by Jean Patou, to the black jumpsuit of Serena Williams. “Rule number 9 at Wimbledon still states that you must wear white, just like in the 19th century.e century. ” And this can be explained scientifically.

Smirking, in The swimming costumeJulien Magalhães pretends to be surprised, a pink swan buoy around his waist: “Why this obsession with the size of women’s swimsuits? (…) Yesterday, swimsuits that were too short, today, burkinis that were too long… We don’t learn from the past.” Not so light after all.

The Fabric of Athletesdocumentary mini-series by Julien Magalhães (Fr., 2024, 7 × 7 min). Available on demand on TV5MondePlus.

Catherine Pacary

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