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Tailor makes Olympians fit for competition

TAMPA — Nick Awad gives each Olympic athlete a once-over. The archer must have flexibility in the shoulders. The power lifter, a little extra neck space. No binding. No riding up. Snug swimsuits. Loose basketball shorts. "Each has to fit right," says Awad, a Tampa tailor who alters uniforms for America's top athletes. "It can make all the difference."

U.S. Olympic teams have begun assembling at San Jose State University in California to get set for the 2008 Summer Games.

They'll get crash courses on Chinese culture, screenings for drugs, official photographs and apparel designed by Ralph Lauren.

Next stop, Awad, master of nips and tucks.

"I'm there to please everyone," he says. He hems. He takes in. He lets out — all with speed. "We are fast, you know," says Awad, who owns Sew Fast on Platt Street. "That's what we do."

Then, the athletes will be Beijing bound.

Awad, 49, plans to watch on television from Tampa with his wife and three children, pointing out the ones he remembers. Still, he considers himself part of the team.

He stumbled into the side gig after doing work for Olympians visiting Busch Gardens back in the '80s.

They called on him for the Pan American Games six years ago.

Awad left Tampa on Wednesday for California.

First up were the rowers on Friday, followed by swimmers on Saturday. In addition to the clothing they wear in competition, athletes try on uniforms for opening ceremonies, set for Aug. 8. In Chinese culture, the number 8 is associated with prosperity.

"Lots of guys are particular. Especially the new guys," Awad says.

He remembers a power lifter he fitted. "Her neck is 20 inches," he says with admiration. "They're beautiful people."

Basketball players tower over Awad, but he also respects the power of smaller athletes, those who compete at boxing or tae kwon do.

Awad oversees a small team of tailors provided by uniform designer Lauren. "I give orders. I show them shortcuts."

He came to Tampa in 1983. He has hemmed hand-painted jeans that cost $7,000. He has tailored suits for John Travolta.

He grew up in Lebanon, where he learned to sew as a teenager working for a designer. He remembers a wedding gown for a princess from Saudi Arabia. It was so heavy with sequins she could wear it only 45 minutes.

Awad calls his work an art.

But he'll rely on his speed to ensure the fit for hundreds of athletes. On his busiest day, Saturday, he expects to see 118 of them in uniform.

"These have to fit right," he says.

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at edyer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

Tailor makes Olympians fit for competition 07/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 9:47am]
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