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Team USA To Wear Pacific Northwest Wool At Winter Olympics Ceremonies

Ralph Lauren
The patriotic sweaters that Team USA athletes will wear at the 2018 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony are knit from wool sheared from Oregon sheep.

When Team USA marches into a South Korean stadium for the Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies next month, they'll be swathed in Northwest wool. Team sponsor Ralph Lauren used wool from an Oregon ranch for the patriotic sweaters, mittens and hats.

Apparel maker Ralph Lauren took a public beating in 2012 when Americans learned that year's U.S. Olympic Team ceremony outfits were made overseas. For the 2014 Winter Games, the New York fashion house went with "Made in the USA," starting with wool from sheep grazed on the Oregon high desert.

It's back to that source again, to the delight of wool grower Jeanne Carver.

"Every factory, spinner, dyer, knitters, weavers—all the people who have been part of this—we’ll all be just a little prouder and little more connected to our U.S. athletes and you know, standing with them as they go into competitions,” she said.

Carver said the exposure from being an Olympics supplier helped business "grow dramatically" at her Imperial Stock Ranch. So much so, she happily roped in other Western family ranches to help meet demand.

Imperial Stock Ranch, which Carver co-owns with husband Dan, spreads across 32,000 acres near the town of Shaniko in north central Oregon.

One outcome Carver hoped to see from the high-profile domestic "in-sourcing" of the Olympic team outfits in 2014 was to boost U.S. textile processing and manufacturing more broadly.

"It led to increased opportunity for additional woolgrowers in America as well as strengthening 'Made in America' efforts for Ralph Lauren and others," a satisfied Carver said Monday in an interview from New York City. "It led to wonderful partnerships with other major bands and of course, a continued relationship providing yarn to Ralph Lauren for various programs."

The 2014 Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony sweater was a colorful patchwork of patriotic symbols, stars and Olympic rings, which some reviewers loved and others judged as too garish or loud.

Credit David Nogueras / OPB
File photo. Imperial Stock Ranch owner Jeanne Carver holds up Team USA's Opening Ceremony sweater from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

This year's version is unlikely to grab the spotlight in the same way given its classic ski sweater design using red and white motifs on a navy blue base. For a limited time, you too can wear the sweater if you have a cool $595 in spare change to buy it.

The initial buzz at the 2018 Opening Ceremony uniform unveiling Monday was all about the parka the athletes will wear over the sweater. The new parka, made by a New Jersey company, has a built-in, battery-powered flexible heating system.

"When Team USA comes together, it's so special. To be able to wear all these uniforms will be amazing," ice dancer Maia Shibutani said while modeling the collection during a segment on NBC's Today Show.

There are other Northwest connections to Winter Olympics fashion. Beaverton, Oregon-based Nike sponsors a separate uniform that America's top finishers will don to march onto the medal stand.

The uniforms worn in competition are yet again different, some from Nike and some made by rivals. The U.S. freestyle ski team will wear outerwear from Portland's Columbia Sportswear while shredding moguls or flipping through the air.

More than once, Northwest Olympians have remarked after interviews with public radio that they have to devote precious bandwidth to remembering which sponsors' apparel to wear when.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.