An In-Depth Look at the Olympics Nail Art Phenomenon (and Why You Won't See Any Gymnasts Sporting the Trend)

When athletes compete at the Olympics, their countries' uniforms serve to unite the whole team, provide some visual continuity, and of course make it
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When athletes compete at the Olympics, their countries' uniforms serve to unite the whole team, provide some visual continuity, and of course make it
Photos: Getty

Photos: Getty

When athletes compete at the Olympics, their countries' uniforms serve to unite the whole team, provide some visual continuity, and of course make it easy to tell who's from where. However, it seems like this year, athletes are making an extra effort to individualize their looks and stand out a little bit. (Exhibit A: Ryan Lochte and that grill. Exhibit B: Sanya Richards-Ross' Chanel earrings.) But while grills--thank god--haven't quite taken off as a trend amongst Olympians, one thing definitely has: Nail art.

We first noticed it with the swimmers--Team GB swimmer Rebecca Adlington was sporting ten fingers full of the Union Jack when she picked up her medal, and since then, it's all we've been noticing. From the cyclists to the shooters, everyone's going for some nail flair, which is not something we saw at the 2008 Olympics.

Some of the flag design options at the P&G Family Home in London.

Some of the flag design options at the P&G Family Home in London.

Of course, Olympic nail art isn't entirely new--you can't talk about Olympic manicures without mentioning the amazing Florence Griffith Joyner, who was not afraid to sport some serious talons on the track. And the Williams sisters have never been afraid to rock a blingy mani. But now, it's quite literally a global phenomenon. Which is probably not the least bit surprising, considering how huge a phenomenon nail art is in general. The only athletes who really aren't doing nail art are the gymnasts, and that's because it's literally against the rules. According to the official gymnastics competition rules, you can actually get points deducted for wearing nail polish. This seems completely unfair to us--just imagine what those ladies could do with nail art! They're clearly trying to make up for this unfairness with hair glitter and smoky eyes. Anyway...

UK nail art guru Sophy Robson deserves a big chunk of the credit for the current patriotic nail craze. There are a series of nail salons through the Olympic athletes' village where athletes and their families can get a patriotic mani. Robson designed two full pages of flag designs for every country imaginable. We got to check it out when we were in London at the games, courtesy of P&G (who also sponsored Robson), and learned that all the nail artists practiced flag nail art design for weeks before arriving.

Not surprisingly, US and UK designs were the most popular--but painting tiny flags on nails can be challenging. We took an informal poll of the manicurists, and the most difficult flag to fit onto a nail? *drum roll* Australia! Too many tiny things going on there.

Nail art was really something that people bonded over. I went to London armed with an American flag flair nail (thanks to Nail Rock's patriotic wrap) and I was stopped everywhere from the tube to the candy counter (yum...Maltesers) by fellow Americans and nail admirers alike. The bottom line is that nail art is a great way to show some patriotism without the humiliation of face painting and the commitment of a tattoo. Perfect!

Click through to see some Olympian manis in action.

Left: Pedi art on Gabby Douglas' aunt Bianca. Right: The nails of a P&G Family Home manicurist

Left: Pedi art on Gabby Douglas' aunt Bianca. Right: The nails of a P&G Family Home manicurist