23 SEP 2007 General News Stuttgart, Germany

You can’t help but notice it - World Athletics Final

1993: Sandra Farmer-Patrick of the USA in action during the 400 metres Hurdles event at the IAAF Mobil Grand Prix at the Bislett Stadium in Oslo, Norway (Getty Images)1993: Sandra Farmer-Patrick of the USA in action during the 400 metres Hurdles event at the IAAF Mobil Grand Prix at the Bislett Stadium in Oslo, Norway (Getty Images) © Copyright

It was the moment that tennis met track and field. Tasha Danvers-Smith, with a combination of mischief and daring, made her entrance at the IAAF / VTB Bank World Athletics Final today in a £50 all-white tennis dress she had bought in London – and proceeded to race in it!

It may not have helped her performance – Danvers-Smith finished seventh in the women’s 400m Hurdles – but she had no regrets. “I’m just trying to have fun, make the event more exciting for myself,” said the 30-year-old British athlete and mother of a two-year-old son.

For those who followed the sport in the early 1990s, it brought back memories of Sandra Farmer-Patrick, the flamboyant American who raced in a tutu. ”I remember she used to do her hair and have lots of different skirts, things like that,” said Danvers-Smith, who would have been in her mid-teenage years at the time.

“She and Flo-Jo (Florence Griffith-Joyner) used to wear tutus and one-legged tights and things.  Those days of track and field were fun, so why can’t we have fun? This reflects me and my personality. With everything I do, I am a little bit crazy.”

Crazy - and colourful - from head to toe. From her golden hair down to her green spikes.  And, as well as that dress, and her hair and shoes, Danvers-Smith did a fair impression of a mobile jewellery wagon as she ran her race. Earrings, stud in her lower lip, rings of butterflies and hearts on her fingers, and anklets on both ankles.

“I usually wear a third one but it has a bell on it and I didn’t want anybody to know I was coming, so I took it off,” she said. But back to the dress, which is perfectly within IAAF regulations. Without a sponsor, the dress came as an advertisement free zone, except for what Danvers-Smith said about it.

“I am not sponsored so I could go out there in an Eskimo suit if I wanted to,” the Briton chuckled. “As I don’t have the restriction of having to wear a specific uniform, I can do what I want, so why not do this? Sandra’s here, so maybe she’ll appreciate it.”

After four races in a skirt – in Sheffield, London, Rieti and Rovereto – Danvers-Smith launched a new look in Stuttgart. “In Sheffield I wore a black skirt, black top,” she said. “At Crystal Palace it was white skirt, white top. In Rieti I wore a black skirt, with white trim, and a white top. In Rovereto I wore a white skirt, with blue trim, and white top. Today I went for a white dress.

“For Sheffield, London, Rieti and Rovereto, I had skirts that I had bought some time ago. But I wanted a different one here and when I went to Niketown (in London’s Oxford Street) but they didn’t have anything different from what I had already. So I thought a tennis shop was bound to have something.”

Asking around, Danvers-Smith discovered that Queen’s Club, London, where the annual pre-Wimbledon Stella grass-court tournament is held, had a shop. “I was in there for an hour and a half trying on everything and I ended up picking this,” she said. “It was on sale at £50. It’s Ralph Lauren. It’s a £50 Ralph Lauren tennis dress which is now a £50 Ralph Lauren World Athletics Final dress.”

And the gold in her hair? “I’ve got the gold streak going courtesy of Phillips,” said Danvers-Smith, referring to the fashion conscious British triple jumper, Phillips Idowu, “I borrowed a sachet of his hair dye, did one strand, liked it, and kept going.”

On the question of whether Danvers-Smith might be breaking any competition clothing regulations, Nick Davies, the IAAF’s Communications Director, said: “The only issues are regulations relating advertising and decency which, in this case, is irrelevant. But I am not convinced the cotton dress is very aerodynamic. This is basically DIY and I would ask: ‘Are you sure it’s not slowing you up?“

Danvers-Smith, who lives in Los Angeles but bases herself in London during the summer season, said of any potential slowing-down effect: “It’s fine, you don’t really notice it.”

Not if you’re wearing, perhaps but, if you’re watching, you can’t help but notice it. “If I see Sandra here I’ll ask her if she likes the throwback – bringing something back from the past. And then I’ll ask her about my hurdling!”

David Powell for the IAAF

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