American Speedskating Suits May Be the Problem

U.S. Olympic speed skaters have wearing new speed suits from Under Armour called the Mach 39. The high-tech suits have a raft of features designed to reduce friction and drag. Expectations for the suits were high going into the Games, but so far, no U.S. skater has finished better than seventh. Some think the suit may be to blame.  

Vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are also allowing air to enter and create drag that keeps skaters from staying in the low position they need to achieve maximum speed, these people said. One skater said team members felt they were fighting the suit to maintain correct form.

Under Armour seamstresses in Sochi have been busy making adjustments to the suits, including covering the back vents with rubber. How could the suits have surprised athletes at the Olympics? Because the company wanted to keep the technology under wraps. They weren’t even worn at the U.S. Olympic trials.   

The suits were delivered to the team in January, when preliminary adjustments for fit and comfort were made for each athlete, Mr. Haley said. The company also sent a team of specialists to Sochi to make adjustments as needed. The U.S. team wore the suits in the past month for simulated race conditions, but the Games marked the first time in competition.

Dutch speed skaters also have new speedsuits, which have been tested in competition. While some compare the technology, others say the Dutch are just faster skaters than the Americans. While U.S. athletes do not want to criticize their sponsor -indeed, they are not allowed to- the U.S. Speedskating organization and Under Armour have come up with a plan.

“For the remainder of the Winter Olympic Games, Team USA speed skaters will be wearing the previously-approved Under Armour skin suits used during recent World Cup competition," U.S. speed skating president Mike Plant said. "Under Armour provided U.S. speed skating with three different suit configurations in advance of Sochi, and we have full confidence in the performance benefits of each of them."

Today’s speedskating in Sochi begins with the men’s 1500 meter event, in which U.S. gold medalist Shani Davis will compete.  

(Image credit: Reuters)

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