Explainer: Why so many Olympic athletes are wearing coloured tape on their bodies?

Is it a fashion statement?

Germany’s Katrin Holtwick wears the Kinesio tape on her stomach during a beach volleyball match.
Germany’s Katrin Holtwick wears the Kinesio tape on her stomach during a beach volleyball match.
Image: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

YOU MAY HAVE noticed a bunch of athletes at the London Olympics coated in colored tape. The thick stripes might be bright blue, pink, black or beige. They cover everything from shoulders and backs to abs and quads.

The elusive material is called Kinesio tape. Its inventor, Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist Dr Kenzo Kase, claims that the elastic tape reduces pain and supports muscles without restricting movement like other traditional sports tapes. According to the Kinesio website, the tape “microscopically lifts skin and channels away moisture.”

The special tape was actually developed more than thirty years ago, but only recently gained in popularity when it was first sported by Sumo wrestlers at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Since that time, sales have risen 300%, the international director of the Kinesio Holding Corporation, Michael Good, tells NPR’s Jessica Stoller-Conrad.

But the question remains: Does the sticky stuff really give athletes a physical edge? It’s probably more psychological than anything. Even Kase admits that the scientific evidence isn’t quite there.

“We need more evidence. We do not have research reports. Part of the reason people are using Kinesio tape is to find the science,” Kase told Michelle Roberts of BBC News in July.

“Personally, I think it is more of a placebo effect,” John Brewer, a sports professor at the University of Bedfordshire, told Roberts. “There is no firm scientific data to show that it has an impact on performance or prevents injuries.”

Despite the doubts, it’s evident that the colorful adhesive has found a solid fan-base in London.

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Gavin Cooney
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