The speedskating headlines for the United States team have been disappointing since it landed in Sochi. Shani Davis failed in his bid for a third straight gold medal in the 1,000 meters and finished eighth on Wednesday. Heather Richardson faltered in the women's 1,000 on Thursday, placing seventh. No American has placed higher than seventh in any of the six events held through Thursday.
So what gives? Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, some suspicion is being thrown at the one unifying thread — make that unifying threads —among the American racers.
We're talking about the team's new, high-tech speedskating suits from Under Armour, a sartorial innovation that was supposed to lift the American team to golden times at the 2014 Olympics.
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But one week into the Winter Games, some are suspecting it's the Under Armour gear that's literally holding U.S. skaters back in a sport where every fraction of a second matters.
From the Wall Street Journal:
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 the 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 skaters, including 1,000 world-record holder Heather Richardson, sent their suits to an Under Armour seamstress Thursday to have the panel modified with an extra piece of rubber. Even after the alteration, Richardson finished seventh — more than a second slower than the winner.
The Wall Street Journal reports that even skaters and coaches from other countries have remarked on how the suits seem to be slowing down the U.S. team. The Americans, however, are being publicly reserved when it comes to the uniform's effect on their teams. Davis said he "would like to think" it's not the suit that caused his downfall in the 1,000, while team coach Ryan Shimabukuro refused to take aim at a sponsor.
Davis cannot change back to his old Nike suit even if he wants to, as Olympic rules dictate that all members of a team must wear the same uniform. Given what is said in the Wall Street Journal article, it would seem that the American team's major mistake was to not test these out in a lesser competition before wearing them at the Olympics. Seems like you'd really want to see that the suits were performance enhancing instead of just taking the company's word for it. (Under Armour told the WSJ that all the feedback they've received has been positive and that the suits went through 300 hours of wind tunnel testing.)
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So is this sour grapes and a simple scapegoating? Or is it something more? While we might never know for sure, Under Armour's deal with the U.S. team expires after these Games. Whether or not that deal is renewed for the 2018 Games may tell us all we need to know.
More Winter Olympics coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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- Heather Richardson