The United States’ speedskating team has had no success at the Sochi Winter Games, and it may be due to Under Armour. Team USA’s speedskating suits which have been designed by the popular athletic apparel company have been rumored to have major flaws, and may be prohibiting the athletes from reaching podium.
With decorated Olympic superstars including Shani Davis, JR Celski and Heather Richardson on this year’s US speedskating team, it has been nothing less than shocking to both the team and its fans that an American has yet to reach the podium at Sochi. With speedskating team coaches, trainers and athletes all searching for answers, the design of the team’s speed suit is under much scrutiny and questioning.
Team USA’s speedskating uniform, the Mach 39, was created by Under Armour in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. While the uniform was designed to improve the athlete’s performances by enhancing aerodynamics and reducing drag, many of the skaters have concerns about the suit. Due to technical flaws, including a venting system along the spine, the athletes were concerned that this would add drag, thus causing them to perform poorly.
Many of the skaters’ main concerns with the Mach 39 are that it had not been properly tested in real-life performance scenarios before the Olympics. While Under Armour representatives claim that they did not use the Mach 39 in performances races before the Olympics so as to protect their suit’s design, this may have given the athletes a disadvantage. Due to the inability to fully test the suit and learn about how it helps or hurts athletes in race situations, no changes could have been made to the suit to enhance the design.
In efforts to improve their race time, the United States speedskating team requested to use different suits in Olympics races instead of the Mach 39. However, this controversial request has been met with much opposition. The International Olympic Committee had a difficult decision to make when deciding whether to acquiesce to the skaters’ request, due to Under Armour’s heavy sponsorship role in the Olympic Games. In efforts to remain diplomatic, the committee decided to allow the skaters to use the suits that they wore during the World Cup, which were also crafted by Under Armour. This decision honored the requests of the skaters without publicly shaming Under Armour products, or the brand as a whole. The only way that the athletes were able to make the switch to other suits was if all of the speedskaters unanimously chose to ditch the Mach 39 and use the other suit.
The US speedskaters decided to return to using their Under Armour World Cup competition suits, not only in hopes of decreasing their skate time, but also to shed the negative connotations now associated with the Mach 39. However, when athletes completed in Olympic races after switching suits, they did not achieve the desired results, leaving United States speedskaters still far from reaching the podium. With inconclusive results, the US speedskating team is left to determine what other factors could be causing the team to perform poorly.
By Allison Longstreet