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Are Under Armour's High-Tech Suits Costing U.S. Speedskaters Olympic Medals?

A medal drought by American speedskaters at the Sochi Olympics has some athletes questioning the design of the Under Armour-produced suits that the competitors are wearing.

Under Armour founder Kevin Plank says his company is helping U.S. speedskaters tweak their suits to ensure success at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Credit: Screenshot from Bloomberg Televsion
Under Armour founder Kevin Plank says his company is helping U.S. speedskaters tweak their suits to ensure success at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Credit: Screenshot from Bloomberg Televsion

Are the much-hyped, high-tech suits created by Baltimore-based Under Armour to blame for the lack of American speed-skating medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi?

American speedskaters are having their worst Winter Olympics in three decades, so far. Shani Davis -- the back-to-back gold medalist in the 1,500 meters and the current world record holder -- finished eighth in the 1,500-meter race.

Then the women's 1,000-meter race on Thursday yielded no U.S. medals. The U.S. speedskating team questioned everything from race strategy to skate blades, reports the Wall Street Journal, and a suspect emerged: the racing suits.

Produced in secrecy by Maryland companies Under Armour and Lockheed Martin, the suits have a design flaw that may be slowing down skaters, says the Journal.

U.S. Speedskating covered a meshed area on the back of the suit worn by Heather Richardson, the top-ranked women’s skater in the world, who finished seventh in the 1,000 meters, says The Baltimore Sun. The mesh was designed to vent the athlete’s body, but some worried it was creating drag.

Under Armour founder Kevin Plank calls the issue “a bit of a head scratcher.” He says the company has a full team on the ground in Sochi to make adjustments and help the team to bring home gold.

Now U.S. speedskating officials are working to get approval to race in skin suits worn during World Cup competition. Some skaters brought their old suits with them to Sochi, while some will have to be delivered.

Brian Hansen, who skated in the 500 and 1,000 meter races, told the Sun: “If the entire U.S. team is underperforming compared to our potential — literally everyone — you can only look at so many factors. Is it the suit? Is it our preparation? The suit’s the easiest thing to fix.”

In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Plank said, “When you’re not performing you look at everything, from the training to the gear to the skates to the pillows you slept on the night before. It’s all very fair.”

Buzz Beeler February 14, 2014 at 05:26 PM
Whether or not the suit is the issue the matter went public and that is not good. Their star was rising so fast. I think Speedo went through a similar issue. It's now a matter of damage control.
Stan Modjesky February 14, 2014 at 08:32 PM
They are grasping at straws here. I could believe a claim that the suits were somehow restricting range of motion, but the effect of aerodynamic drag at the relatively low speeds at which speed skaters move would seem more like a psychological effect than a physical one. Isn't it more likely that the garments just feel strange, and that's creating a distraction?
Michael February 15, 2014 at 02:51 AM
Under Armor has been riding the crest of the sports apparell wave for a while now. Even if the speed skaters UA suits aren't the problem, the bad publicity looks like it might cause a wipe out.
Speziak Montgomery February 15, 2014 at 07:48 AM
I was wearing an Under Armor shirt and I just missed my train. Thanks!
Marty Chase February 15, 2014 at 08:17 AM
This story already is way out of date. According to a report early last evening by the Wall Street Journal, they've already decided to drop these suits. About 80 percent of all these stories about Under Armour uniforms...just a bunch of hype to promote the companmy.
lbfixer February 15, 2014 at 10:23 AM
I believe we have a whole generation of young athletes who think if they don't win medals it is somehow somebody or something else causing their lack of winning. Paaaaaleeeeze
Buzz Beeler February 15, 2014 at 10:29 AM
It's not the athletes that will take a hit like UA. They are mostly unknowns. UA is in the top gun class.
Stan Modjesky February 15, 2014 at 10:35 AM
There are a lot of wannabe competitors, but I don't think anyone else has the broad product line that UA offers. So they make take a temporary hit, instead of getting the bounce they'd hope for from the Olympics. In any event, if a "hit" means they have to reduce prices a bit to keep selling apparel, that could end up as a win for both the company and the buying public. I think their stuff works quite well, but there is a limit to how often I am able to spend close to fifty bucks for an undershirt.
Maria Houser Conzemius February 15, 2014 at 11:58 AM
Under Armour underduds run small. Mediums are not medium; they're small. Smalls aren't small, they're extra smalls. In particular, the rise (distance from crotch to waist) is very short. That's disastrous for someone who's thin but has a long rise, but it's even too short for someone who's a medium and has a normal rise.
Buzz Beeler February 15, 2014 at 12:14 PM
Maria how true. When they first came out as a year-round golfer (the swing's the thing) I bought one of their thermal shirts. The size I normally wear was way too small. I had to go three sizes above it and that to was very restricting. I bought it to avoid bulking with thicker clothes to be able to swing the club. It was actually more restricting than the thicker sweaters. I never bought UA again.
Barbara Dennison February 15, 2014 at 02:45 PM
Don't blame the suits or the company. They did not skate as well as others.
craig February 16, 2014 at 04:38 PM
They haven't skated any better in the old ones. ...Guess it's just their lousy skating that's the only issue. To bad the only thing people will remember is it's under armour's fault.

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