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The DeKathieLee, A New Olympic Event

Conceived by entertainer and clothing mogul Kathie Lee Gifford, the DeKathieLee showcases the speed, dexterity, reflexes and stamina of the young ladies of the developing world who assemble our fashion and athletic apparel. Honduran Lucia Gonzales is favored to win the grueling "Race to the bottom."
 
 
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It's Labor Day, 6 A.M., in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Lucia Gonzales has already put in three hard hours of training. Starting at 7 she'll put in another 12 hours, honing on the job the skills she predicts will bring her Olympic gold in the inaugural DeKathieLee.

Like the men's decathlon, the DeKathieLee is ten events in one. Just as the decathlon champ is hailed as the male "World's Greatest Athlete," the DeKathieLee winner will claim that title among women.

Conceived by entertainer and clothing mogul Kathie Lee Gifford, the contest showcases the speed, dexterity, reflexes and stamina of the young ladies of the developing world who assemble our fashion and athletic apparel and our children's toys and dolls.

Male decathletes compete in the shot put, javelin toss, pole vault, broad jump and high jump, as well as sprints and distance races. This is child's play compared to the "DeKathieLeetes," whose individual events can last as long as 15 hours. They are judged on quantity, quality and perkiness as they glue soles on Air Jordans in unventilated rooms; attach Pocahontas heads to Pocahontas bodies; and sew french seams in Van Heusen shirts, double-stitch pockets on Guess? jeans, and "No Sweat" labels on Kathie Lee's summer line.

The young ladies also compete in a variety of discipline-related contests typical of what supervisors reluctantly impose when production lags, such as ten-mile runs in the broiling sun and Dodge Shoe. In the latter event -- regarded by many as the ultimate test of reflexes and the ability to play with pain -- Mexican League pitchers hurl sneakers at competitors from a distance of 28 feet.

While pampered decathletes are guaranteed a good night's sleep after each day's competition, DeKathieLeetes will be locked in the Olympic factory until 2 a.m. to stitch uniforms for athletes who'll compete in the final days of the games.

Youth Will be Served

"DeKathieLeetes typically peak in their mid-to-late teens," says Olympics historian and filmmaker Bud Greenspan. "A seamstress in her 20s can run as well as ever, but repetitive-use injuries will have lessened her dexterity. When it comes to sewing swooshes on Tiger visors or C-cups into Brandi bras, the kids have a big edge."

Born ambidextrous, Gonzales' strong suit is versatility. The 17-year-old has molded Barbies and folded Levi's. She's sewn zippers and zig zags for Gap, Gloria, Ralph and Tommy. "There's nothing Lucia can't do," boasts her Taiwanese supervisor and coach, Mee Ngo Pei.

Though the petite Gonzales tips the scales at 90 pounds, she has the bladder capacity of a 300-pound Greco-Roman wrestler. "Every day I go an extra 15 minutes before taking my one allotted bathroom break," she said. "I can last ten hours, no problem." This gives her a big edge over her arch-rival, El Salvador's Nida Gopati.

The Make-or-Break Races

One thing Gonzales can't control is the scoring. It could be erratic, perhaps even biased. The International Olympic Committee had budgeted $1.3 million to bring in the best judges from every apparel-producing region, but at the last moment subcontracted adjudication to a South Korean firm for $200,000 and pocketed the difference.

Nevertheless, Greenspan predicts the DeKathieLee will be decided not by judging irregularities but the athletes' performance in three key events. All hold surprises for participants, so if you're reading this, mum's the word.

* Fifty-Laps-Around-the-Factory Noonday Run. The good news: Helpers are stationed along the route with cups of Gatorade and potassium-rich bananas, just like during the marathon. The bad news: The cups are empty and the bananas are plastic.

* Fifteen-Hour Sneaker Stitch. The good news: Of the hundreds of pairs they sew, competitors get to keep one for themselves. The bad news: They're docked the retail price, which comes to ten weeks pay.

* Full-Bladder 100-Meter Sprint (No bathroom break in preceding eight hours). The good news: Just beyond the finish line are three port-a-lets, marked "win," "place" and "show." The bad news: The doors are locked.

"All hell" isn't the only thing about to break loose in Sydney. Let the race to the bottom begin!