Holey Shirt! A brief history

Ryan Sandes won the 2017 100 mile Western States Endurance Run in a shirt full of holes – precision cut holes. There is a history of innovation for this race, and a longer history of the holey shirt.

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Holey shirt Western States 100

speed holes Simpsons Holey Shirt
The Simpsons know what’s up.

I remember my first holey shirt. I was on my school athletics team for sprints, and javelin. We had to wear a loose vest: the stiff black top bearing the school badge, with a white mesh section below it. I don’t think it let me run particularly fast, but it did make me very self-conscious of my chest. These guys have had a different experience.

Holey shirt history

Alberto Salazar 1984 Olympics holey shirt
Alberto Salazar at the 1984 Olympic Games.

Alberto Salazar raced the marathon at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, wearing a holey shirt. There were so many holes, and the fabric of the Kappa singlet was already so sheer, he may as well not have worn a shirt. It served the purpose of holding up his race number, and following dress codes, while keeping him cool.

John Williams-Searle of Fleet Feet Sports explains: “Much was made of Salazar’s trip to the U.S. Army Labs in Natick, Massachusetts, where he underwent tests in a heat chamber to measure his sweat production. I remember that the colour commentators went out of their way to reassure viewers that these tests had provided a scientific basis for where Salazar cut the holes; otherwise it merely looked like he had woken up on the morning of the Olympic Marathon and had attacked his singlet with a pair of scissors.”

Galen Rupp holey shirt Olympic trials 2016
Galen Rupp in his DIY holey shirt at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Unfortunately, adrenal fatigue kept victory out of Alberto’s hands: “Up until the gun went off, I hoped that I could somehow pull off one more great race, but magic didn’t happen,” Salazar says. “I wanted that gold medal more than anything. I had dreamed about it for years.” He placed 15th.

At the 2016 United States Olympic Trials, Galen Rupp wore a DIY holey shirt. It was a dry, hot day, and Galen’s coach Alberto probably gave him the idea. The Nike singlet looks like it was very much a quick hack, rather than a careful few slices.

It worked for him where it failed for Alberto: he placed first in 27:55.04 for the 10,000m.

In August 2016, Galen raced in a holey shirt once more at the Rio Olympics. This time, Nike made the running vest with holes so that Galen wouldn’t have to DIY. He won a bronze medal in the marathon with a 2:10:05, on a wet day with 95% humidity.

Galen Rupp and Kenyan marathoner Wesley Korir in holey shirts at the Rio Olympics.

Holes at Western States

Jim Walmsley holey shirt WS100
Jim Walmsley at Western States in 2016.

Jim Walmsley chopped his shirt for his 2016 Western States debut. With no sponsors to worry about offending, he hacked at his own tee. His performance is stuff of legend, as he kept 30 minutes ahead of the record for over 90 miles before going off course and losing out on the win. Impressively, it was his first-ever 100 miler.

Jim came back in 2017 with the same goal, but a more carefully perforated Hoka One One cropped vest. It was too hot, he went out too hard, he blew up, and dropped out at mile 78.

Enter our beloved Ryan Sandes.

Ryan raced his fifth Western States in 2017, after two near-misses (second and fifth), a DNF, and a DNS. This was his year, and the heat was a factor.

The holey shirt from Salomon, along with his precision training, race strategy, and heat experience, put him on the top of the podium in a dream come true.

Ryan Sandes holey shirt salomon Western States 100 by Dean Leslie
Ryan Sandes in his Samolon prototype holey shirt at Western States 100. photo Dean Leslie

“I designed the shirt with Serge Chapuis from the Salomon Research and Development department,” explained Ryan. “He used super lightweight material that is very cooling when it is wet and against your skin.

“I asked him to put small holes in for additional cooling. A number of guys have cut holes in their tees before so that’s where I got the idea.

“It is a prototype tee that I got made so it is not in production.”

Why holes instead of topless?

“I prefer having a lightweight vest on. When it is wet it is very cooling on my skin. I find I get hotter when shirtless.”

Addo Elephant Trail Run 2017 Willemien van Zyl rokkie runner 76km finish by Deon Braun
Willemien van Zyl at the Addo Elephant Trail Run finish line. Her mother made the dress she wore to complete the 76km ultra race. photo Deon Braun

Surprisingly, none of these guys get circles of sunburn on their bods. A combination of the angle of the sun, and the flapping fabric, stops it from happening.

The holey shirt may have originated on the track, but there are no dress codes on the trail. Anton Krupicka can run Western States 100 shirtless, or other trails in a button-down tee. In South Africa we have the rokkie runner Willemien van Zyl completing the 76km Addo Elephant Trail Run in a dress. Make your own rules.

Will you try out the holey shirt?

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