Updates From Saturday, Feb. 15:
According to Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network, the IOC has approved the Americans' request to switch their suits:
IOC approves the change. Shani Davis and fellow American speed skaters will switch back to the old suits.— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) February 15, 2014
The president of U.S. Speedskating released a statement on the decision, according to Jared Hopkins of The Chicago Tribune:
“For the remainder of the Winter Olympic Games, Team USA speedskaters will be wearing the previously-approved Under Armour skin suits used during recent World Cup competition,” Mike Plant, president of US Speedskating, announced in a news release just before dawn Saturday in Sochi.
Under Armour isn't going to like this one.
According to a report by Joshua Robinson and Sara Germano of The Wall Street Journal, the United States' struggles in the speedskating events at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are being blamed on the uniforms, which were designed by the popular athletic clothing brand:
These suits—designed by apparel sponsor Under Armour and billed before the Games as a competitive advantage—have a design flaw that may be slowing down the skaters, according to three people familiar with the U.S. team. Vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are also allowing air to enter and create drag that keeps the 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.
On Friday, The Wall Street Journal's Sara Germano reported that Team USA is submitting a request to change suits:
ESPN's Darren Rovell added to that:
Told that the IOC has approved the older Under Armour suits that the US speed skaters want to revert to— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) February 14, 2014
The most recognizable name to disappoint so far has been Shani Davis. On Wednesday, he fell to eighth place in the men's 1,000-meter race, an event in which he won gold during the two previous Olympic Games.
Nevertheless, the 31-year-old, who is one of the best speedskaters of all time, wasn't ready to create a scapegoat for his struggles:
"I would like to think that it's not the suit. I would never blame the suit. I'd much rather blame myself. I just wasn't able to do it today, but other people were."
He does have another suit with him in Sochi, but he wasn't allowed to use it because team members must wear the same uniform during the Olympics.
2013 world champion Heather Richardson reportedly went to much greater lengths to solve the uniform problem.
Per Robinson and Germano, the 24-year-old had Under Armour alter her suit shortly before her 1,000-meter race on Thursday. It didn't seem to help, though, as the women's world No. 1 finished seventh.
"My time was almost a second faster than last season here in Sochi, so there’s not too much I can complain about," she said, via the Journal Sentinel's Gary D'Amato. "I was (No. 1) going into the race but I gave it my best and that’s all I can do."
The Americans tested the suits prior but never actually wore them in a competition until arriving Sochi, which Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Kaduk called their "major mistake."
Through six speedskating and two short-track events, the Americans have zero medals. But there is still time to make up for underwhelming results and secure some hardware.
How many speedskating medals will the Americans win in Sochi?
Davis will line up in the 1,500-meter race—where he has two Olympic silvers—on Saturday, while Richardson and women's World No. 2 Brittany Bowe attack the same race on Sunday. A gold from Davis in particular would certainly help ease the disappointment of failing to medal in the 1,000.
If this suit problem turns out to be more of a last-ditch excuse than anything else, then talent will eventually win out and the Americans will earn their expected medals. But if they fail to reach the podium again this weekend, then people will likely start reading into this situation a little more—meaning Under Armour is going to have a whole lot of negative press headed its way.