Why (some) Olympic athletes still embrace the scrunchie

Daniel Garcia / AFP/Getty Images

Gymnast Shannon Miller, back in the '90s, rocked gloriously fluffy scrunchies.

Shannon Lee Miller isn’t only the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history, winning nearly 20 world championships and earning 7 Olympic medals. She is also known for her hair scrunchies.

The hair scrunchie seems to have endured in the gymnastic world even as it has been mostly abandoned by the masses. 

Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Team USA's Kyla Ross hugs coach Jenny Zhang on Tuesday in London, sporting the much-maligned '80s accessory.

Amateur gymnast Lindsey Green remembers Miller’s scrunchies well, back when she was a young gymnast just coming up in the world.  “Look back to Shannon Miller’s huge fluffy white scrunchies," she told TODAY.com. "We even made fun of them in the nineties when we were gymnasts. They were so epic.” Green is a staunch scrunchie wearer and one of the few gymnasts who will admit it. 
Not to say they haven't been found on the mat during the 2012 Olympics. When the U.S. women's gymnastics team took the gold in London, 2 of the 7 team members were sporting scrunchies. Other countries have wrapped their hair in the plush holders, including Russia, Romania and China.

Watch TODAY video: Mary Lou Retton: U.S. gymnastics 'spanked' Russians

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

McKayla Maroney celebrates her performance on the vault on Tuesday.

“In today’s fashion forward world, I don’t know why they’re OK,” said Shawn Johnson, gold medal gymnast and TODAY.com special correspondent. “I never wore them in competition. I wore ribbons. A rubber band covered in glittery fabric sticking out of your head — what is that?”

Viewers noticed the scrunchies as well and many took to Twitter to discuss it. ESPN broadcaster Samantha Steele said, "I've noticed many things while watching late night gymnastics. Most notable: the scrunchie is alive and well." Another user tweeted, "Gymnastics: single-handedly keeping scrunchie manufacturers in business."

There are several theories from the gymnasts themselves about why they wear them. Johnson maintains it’s all about letting your individual fashion sense show on the mat. “Gymnastics doesn’t give much leniency in terms of what you can wear: can’t wear nail polish, jewelry, can’t have tattoos. So people come up with glitter clips, hairdos.”

Watch TODAY video: Gabby Douglas: Calm down, I'm going to catch the bar 

Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty Images

Russia's Victoria Komova performs on the beam on Tuesday in London, her hair held back with a scrunchie.

Gymnast Alicia Sacramone told Fashionista.com she is against scrunchies, and not because they are lacking the fashion factor but because she thinks of them as bad omens. “I honestly think they’re bad luck and I hate them. I don’t know why people think they’re so great and why they’re still a trend." She said that some girls must think scrunchies are good luck. “I think each competitor has a superstitious thing that works for them,” she said.

Green maintains that it isn’t the aesthetic, but function that are key to their popularity. "I don’t know what they make these things out of but they just hold your hair so much better than a regular elastic," she said. "It’s so solid and you could literally do 100 back-flips and your hair would really not come out of the scrunchie. If your hair is in your face and you’re trying to balance on a beam you’ve got a big problem in front of you.”

Still, Green does harbor some scrunchie-related insecurities. "I only use black ones because they match my hair and I don’t want anyone to see it,” she said. "I have some scrunchie shame. I would prefer that no one saw.”

Shawn Johnson is calling for an even more extreme approach. “I think something needs to change,” she told TODAY.com. “It’s like Hammer pants. It’s something that’s never been good that won’t go away.”

TODAY.com contributor Jillian Eugenios has scrunchies hidden in her desk drawer. Don't tell anybody.

More: Click here for all of TODAY.com's Olympics coverage! 
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Discuss this post

They said jewelry and tattoos´╗┐ aren't allowed in gymnastics? I've seen both during these Olympic games (and others).´╗┐

  • 3 votes
Reply#1 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 12:21 PM EDT

Remember when the "thing" were the huge bows. The Russians gymnasts were famous for theirs. and they looked good, too.

    Reply#2 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 2:17 PM EDT

    I actually could care less (don't give a flip), but you didn't make that answer a choice.

    • 4 votes
    Reply#3 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 2:56 PM EDT

    I don't see what's so wrong or offensive about a scrunchie. I'd wear one if I had one lying around and wanted my hair in a ponytail. Beats those painful rubber bands that tear out your hair when you try to remove them.

    • 11 votes
    Reply#4 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 3:08 PM EDT

    I don't see why they get bashed. Scrunchies do a great job and are cute in your hair. I wore them when my hair was longer, my kids wear them if they can find one, and they will likely will keep wearing them. Why make a deal of it? Seriously...geez.

    • 1 vote
    #4.1 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 11:58 PM EDT

    Megaceryle: It's "Couldn't care less" not could. Really bugs me when people get that wrong.

    As for the scrunchies, why is this even worth talking about? And why is Shawn Johnson so stupid as to care about them? "They were never good." Sure they were. I'm wearing a scrunchie right now. It's keeping my hair out of my face and it won't rip my hair out when I take it out. Maybe somebody else thinks your Ribbons are stupid, Mrs. Johnson.

    • 9 votes
    Reply#5 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 5:31 PM EDT

    As per Olympic rules, gymnasts can wear small studs in their ears, and that's it for the jewelry.

      Reply#6 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 5:59 PM EDT

      This story is idiotic. Scrunchies never went away. They've never been "out of fashion". If you wear your hair in a pony tail, a scrunchy is a beautiful way to hold your hair. What the heck is wrong with that? I think Ms. Johnson has Waaaaaaay too much time on her hands. I guess that's the problem about being yesterday's news.

      • 7 votes
      Reply#7 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 6:22 PM EDT

      bring back the scrunchie!!!!

      • 2 votes
      Reply#8 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 8:59 PM EDT

      It never left! Mine is seafoam green today--and, no, it doesn't "match my hair" like Lindsey Green's says hers must! :)

      • 1 vote
      #8.1 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 10:30 PM EDT

      My daughter's hair is so thick and heavy, a scrunchie is the only thing I can use to hold it all in a ponytail. The elastics are not large or stretchy enough, and those "claw clips" definitely do not hold it. And as others have said, it doesn't rip her hair out when you remove it!

      • 4 votes
      Reply#9 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 9:12 PM EDT

      Everyone has their own opinion. I probably would never notice a woman wearing a scrunchie, but I would if they wore ribbons. I just see ribbons as something an elementary kid would wear.

      • 5 votes
      Reply#10 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 9:13 PM EDT

      Scrunchie POWER!!!!

      • 4 votes
      Reply#11 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 9:23 PM EDT

      Pin straight; baby fine - rubber bands, even covered ones, break and pull out my hair. I will forever wear a scrunchie when wearing a ponytail. Fashion be damned! Better I have hair to "scunch" then split, broken or balding without them.

      • 7 votes
      Reply#12 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 9:46 PM EDT

      I love that Shawn Johnson in making fun of scrunchies. I just bought my daughter a new leotard for gymnastics that she picked because it came with a scrunchie. The leotard was from the "Shawn Johnson Collection."

        Reply#13 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 10:07 PM EDT

        I was wondering this very same thing the othernight

          Reply#14 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 10:21 PM EDT

          When the U.S. women's gymnastics team took the gold in London, 2 of the 7 team members were sporting scrunchies.

          There are only five member of the US women's gymnastics team in London. That's why they're called the Fab FIVE. Fact checking and proofreading are your friends.

            Reply#15 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 10:31 PM EDT

            gabby stepped out of bounds.

              Reply#16 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 11:29 PM EDT

              I have a blue scrunchie holding my long hair up now.

                Reply#17 - Fri Aug 3, 2012 10:13 AM EDT

                Every leotard my daughter gets for competition or practice comes with a matching scrunchie. They are part of the uniform

                • 1 vote
                Reply#18 - Fri Aug 3, 2012 12:04 PM EDT
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