Posted February 14, 2014

Was Under Armour to Blame for Team USA’s Poor Speed Skating Performance?

Gear, News
via Getty Images

via Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal published an article today indicating the the United States’ notably poor speed skating performance in Sochi — the squad won four medals in Vancouver but has failed to reach the podium this year — may in part be because of the team’s Under Armour suits which have allegedly slowed them down.

As reported in the WSJ:

According to three people familiar with the U.S. team, these suits—which were designed by apparel sponsor Under Armour and billed before the Games as a major advantage—have a design flaw that may be slowing the skaters down. These people said that vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are allowing air to enter the suit and create drag that keeps the skaters from staying in the “low” position they need to achieve maximum speed. One skater said team members felt they were fighting the suit to maintain correct form.

Several U.S. speed skaters, most notably two-time defending Olympic champion Shani Davis and medal-favorite Heather Richardson, performed well-below expectations in Sochi, so its hardly surprising to see sources of blame emerge. In the case of Davis, he had won four of this season’s six World Cup 1000-meter races before finishing eighth in Sochi.

In January, NBC speed skating commentator Dan Jansen told NPR in regards to the new suits, “When a race is decided by hundredths of a second, sometimes a thousandth now, and you might look back and maybe you wouldn’t know that’s the difference — but there’s a good chance that that would be the difference.”

UPDATE: Under Armour and USA Speed Skating have released the following statements in regards to the suits.

From Kevin Haley, SVP of Innovation at Under Armour:

Under Armour will continue to partner with USA Speed Skating throughout the Sochi competition to help ensure these incredible athletes are best positioned to skate with confidence and capture a spot on the podium. We are committed to providing Team USA with the best possible gear, and Mach 39 is the most scientifically advanced and rigorously tested suit ever featured in Olympic competition. While a multitude of factors ultimately determine on-ice success, many skaters have posted personal-best sea-level heat times, split times or race times this week, and we’re rooting for that to translate into medals over these next couple of days.

From Ted Morris, Executive Director of USA Speed Skating:

We are proud of our long-term partnership with Under Armour and have worked in collaboration to provide our athletes with the best and most innovative suits to maximize their performance on the ice. The evidence does not suggest that the suits have contributed to the disappointing results to date. However, there are many factors that determine Olympic success and we are constantly making adjustments to improve results. We’re working with our athletes, coaches, trainers and Under Armour to figure out what we can do to produce better results for Team USA at these Winter Olympic Games.

UPDATE: The U.S. is reportedly switching back to their old suits for the remainder of the competition according to Darren Rovell.
[Wall Street Journal]

7 comments
SuzanneNiemeijer
SuzanneNiemeijer

Well, I'm Dutch so we don't really have a problem with our suits but you see it in a lot of races when somebody performs worse or better, sometimes they wil blame it on the equipment which of course can be the culprit but most of the time it's a mental thing, because they perform worse then expected and you have to put the blame somewhere and you don't like the blame to be placed on your own shoulders. But you can see that it does't have anything to do with the suits because Davis had another suit on with the 1500 meters and he still performed bad.

Jim C1
Jim C1

How would the not have been able to test that properly beforehand?

AaronThigpen
AaronThigpen

@Jim C1  exactly. Its more than likely a mental thing. I'm not a speed skater but it seems like a reach to blame the suits. I'd be more willing to believe them if they said Putin himself put downers in their water. 

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@AaronThigpen @Jim C1  Davis wins 4 of 6 previous events this year, and then suddenly finishes all the way back at 8th with the new suit on?  Throw in that everyone else on the team wearing the new suits also suddenly underperformed, and it's pretty hard to dismiss the notion that the suits were flawed.  They are, after all, the major new variable in the equation.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@AaronThigpen @leehwgoc  No need to be sarcastic.  Recall that it's already been proven how much of a difference swimsuit design can make in Olympic times.  Why not speed-skating suits, too?  When we're talking tenths and hundredths of a second differences, any sort of increased friction matters, even air friction.

AaronThigpen
AaronThigpen

@leehwgoc Point well taken. I will place half the blame on UA and the other half on Putin.