Though she has twice represented the U.S. at the World Championships, middle-distance runner Maggie Vessey hasn’t yet made it to the Olympics, nor become a household name. But the 32-year-old 800-meter champ from Soquel, California, has a very real shot at becoming a fashion-world favorite. During her most recent season (track, not fashion industry), she ditched the standard singlet-and-brief combo for a host of standout looks that sample from the runway in unprecedented ways. In an interview with Runner's World last month, Vessey explained that, after losing a sponsorship with New Balance earlier this year, she began collaborating with L.A. designer Merlin Castell to create chicer gear. "I do want to draw attention to the sport and maybe give people who aren’t necessarily interested in track and field a reason to be interested," Vessey told Runner's World. "But it is a very authentic expression of who I am, and I now have this opportunity to be able to put that out there, be bold, and take a risk."
Compared to sponsored pro runners and team athletes, unsponsored runners enjoy a good amount of fashion leeway. Even so, the last track-and-field star to make a style statement that resonated in the culture at large was Florence Griffith Joyner in the '80s. Flo-Jo’s L.A.-chic acrylic nails and asymmetrical/one-legged running ensembles helped define workout and nightclub trends for years after she earned the title of "Fastest Woman of All Time" in 1988. Could Maggie Vessey be next, fashion-wise? It's possible — the influence of athleticwear on designer collections only continues to rise, and who knows, maybe Rick Owens is looking for a few new "nodels" to populate his runways.
But it’s going to be a challenge for Vessey to grab the spotlight. Even the best-dressed female athletes receive far less coverage — for both their career and their style — than male ones. True, former New York Ranger Sean Avery interned at Vogue during the off season, but New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire or Nick Young of the L.A. Lakers are considered such celebrities that their off-court looks make news in a way that female athletes’ rarely do. Venus and Serena Williams have occasionally been spotted at fashion-week front rows and enjoy a friendship with Anna Wintour (though not on the order of Wintour’s with Roger Federer), and Maria Sharapova is buddies with Jason Wu, but it is Avery who is enlisted to write multiple fashion columns.
Still, we’re rooting for Vessey. We’ve got our big foam fingers out. At the very least, we’d love to see her outfit the handful of NCAA track-and-field champs who attend FIT. In the meantime, here's a look at some of her unorthodox — and winning — competition gear.BEGIN SLIDESHOW