About 3,000 years ago in ancient Greece, when this summer’s must-have gladiator sandals were reserved for their burly, bloodthirsty namesakes, “Olympic fashion” was a bit of an oxymoron.

As one legend has it, foot racer Orisippos of Megara was the first competitor to run naked in Olympia after getting tangled up in his athletic shorts, creating a new standard for the way Olympic athletes trained and competed. Other historians attribute the Grecians’ aversion in athletic wear to Greece’s intense summer heat or as a preventative measure against cheating. But whether it was for safety purposes or simply the absence of a lucrative Nike “Air Orisippos” endorsement contract, this trend would last until the classical period a few centuries later, when shorts and tunics became en vogue for both male and female athletes.

While the boldest fashion statements are usually relegated to the Winter Olympics, when figure skaters triple-axel around the ice in fringe and sparkles, this August’s Beijing Summer Olympics promises its own special sartorial twist. Ralph Lauren recently signed on as the official outfitter of the U.S. team and will design his signature preppie look for American competitors to wear in the opening and closing ceremonies.

Inspired by the Olympic spiritwhich would seem to include, amid the usual wishes for international understanding, the veneration of young, powerful human bodiesthe Indy photographed 11 athletes from five of the Triangle’s professional sports teams and one ballet company. We skipped the wreaths of olive branches and instead imagined these hardworking athletes at their leisure. Armed with classic summertime garden games such as croquet and badmintonwhich, by the way, is an Olympic sportthese athletes braved the heat in the hottest summer fashions.

Photographs by Derek Anderson; production assistance by Jessica Fuller

Carolina Phoenix

Angela Pitts isn’t a typical wide receiver. As a member of the women’s tackle football team Carolina Phoenix, she’s overturning any lingering notions that the only time women play football is during powder-puff high school games.

While a lilac-colored flutter-sleeved dress from Uniquities may be more suitable for drinking cocktails than breaking tackles, its easy fit makes for a cool summer option when not in a helmet and pads.

Pitts’ team plays in the Durham County Stadium and is part of the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL). The IWFL currently has more than 1,600 women playing the sport for 41 teams across North America, and its season runs from April to June. Pitts and her 29-woman team finished up its 7-1 regular season campaign on June 14 with a 41-0 victory over the Cape Fear Thunder. Playoffs begin June 28 with a game against the Montreal Blitz.

Durham Bulls

The only bling you’ll find anywhere near minor-league juggernaut Fernando Perez is the baseball diamond he routinely steals his way around.

“The guys on the team give me a hard time about my style,” the one-time Columbia University standout says with a smile. “They think I look like a bum, but I’m just not into the flashy trillion dollar jeans bullshit.”

The Bulls’ starting center fielder has made a name for himself by leading the team with 19 stolen bases so far this season. Drafted in the seventh round of 2004 by Tampa Bay, the switchhitter refuses to change up his fashion sense to follow any trends.

“I guess that is my shtick, nothing too fancy,” says Perez, who calls Brooklyn home and cites American Apparel as a favorite shopping destination. “I think I’m just trying to hide and not stand out.” For our shoot, Perez gamely shakes up his uniform of jeans and white T-shirts with clothes from Raleigh’s Catch 22 boutique. He would keep with the “2” theme during that night’s game: He had two hits, stole two bases and scored two runs in the Bulls’ 6-2 loss to Charlotte.

Carolina Ballet

Although dancers are often referred to as artists, it is easy to see the athletic stamina required for 32 fouettés or a medley of grand jetés.

Ballerinas Hong Yang and Lara O’Brien, fresh from their season-ending run of Carolina Jamboree, bring the same grace that Olympic gymnasts carry on top of the balance beam to strappy, detailed dresses from Uniquities.

“Yellow is the hot color of the summer,” declares Yang. The China native, who hails from Anshan in the province of Liaoning, will have a closer view than most of this summer’s Olympic madness. Yang, who has danced with Carolina Ballet for six years, is quick to name United Colors of Benetton and Guess as her favorite stores for non-tutu related items.

Carolina Rollergirls

For Jessica Robinson, Abbey Dethlefs and Tina Jettand their respective alter egos Lucy Lastkiss, Kelly Clocks’em and Red Mojothe in-your-face attitude of this flat-track roller derby team has upped their fashion ante.

“Being a part of the Carolina Rollergirls team really gives you a sense of confidence to dress more creatively on and off the track,” says Jett, smoothing back a pink streak of hair behind her ear.

The women, who add their own flair to the dresses and separates from Raleigh’s Tough Love and Uniquities boutiques, aren’t afraid to let hard-earned purple bruises show through the holes of their black fishnet stockings.

“Being on the team has given me a broader confidence,” says Robinson, who shops at downtown Raleigh’s Southern Swank for kicky roller gear and Great Outdoor Provision Co. for casual wear. “It’s just a really bold, funky culture.”

Carolina RailHawks

Ali Baker takes off down the line of Field Three on Cary’s WakeMed Soccer Park, training a soccer ball close to the tick marks that run the length of the grass. It’s a mindless drill she’s done hundreds of times before, but this time it’s made harder by the buckled, pointy-toed stiletto heels from Cameron Village’s Bargain Box thrift store.

Baker plays on Cary’s professional United Soccer Leagues’ W-League soccer team, which is currently playing its inaugural season.

The RailHawks Women share the facilities with its counterpart, the RailHawks Men. Playing in the US1the professional soccer equivalent to the AAA baseball Durham Bullsthe men are in their second season of existence, following up on a maiden voyage that culminated in a startling run to the U.S. Cup semifinals that included a defeat of the major league Chicago Fire.

Before departing for a recent road trip, forward Dan Antoniuk, midfielder Matthew Watson and forward Martin Nuñez sport T-shirts and a polo from FM Sounds and Goods in Raleigh. Nuñez, a 21-year-old rookie originally from Uruguay, piles on his own woven and beaded bracelets to liven up a checked tee begging to be worn for a picnic spread.

Find the fashions

Bargain Box Thrift Store401 Woodburn Road in Raleigh’s Cameron Village, 833-7587
Catch 22322 Glenwood Ave. in Raleigh, 755-1524
FM Goods and Sounds603 Glenwood Ave. in Raleigh, 828-8899
Tough Love3114 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh, 833-0073
Uniquities450 Daniels St. in Raleigh’s Cameron Village, 832-1234; Additional locations in Chapel Hill and Raleigh’s North Hills
Za Za Zsu1918 Perry St. in Durham, 286-9292

Correction (Tuesday, June 24, 2008): We transposed the names of two Rollersgirls; corrections have been made to photo captions and story text.