Are the Suits the Problem for the US Speedskating Team at 2014 Sochi Olympics?

Diane Pucin@@mepucinOlympics Lead WriterFebruary 14, 2014

Shani Davis of the U.S. skates in the prototype of the official US Speedskating suit during a training session at the Adler Arena Skating Center at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The team thought it had a chance to do something special, given some impressive World Cup results this season and new high-tech suits from Under Armour, which got an assist in the design from aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. Now, there's plenty of grumbling that the suits are actually slowing the skaters down in Sochi. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

Maybe it's all in the suits.

We always notice figure skating outfits with the sparkles and spangles, the bright colors and interesting designs. Those clothes might make the man (or woman), but they don't affect performance.

That may not be the case in speedskating.

It's all the talk in Sochi about why the U.S. team has been blanked so far in the medal race. The company Under Armour designed new racing suits for the team. Good news, right? Supposed to be state of the art.

One problem, though.

The skaters never got to test them in competition until they arrived in Sochi. And so far, American speedskaters are without a medal and it seems they've decided it is the suit.

Now the U.S. skaters will go back to an older version designed by Under Armour, according to the Chicago Tribune's Jared S. Hopkins.

Shani Davis, a Chicago native, was a dismal eighth in one of his signature events, the 1000-meter race, and world-record holder Brittany Bowe finished in eighth as well in the same event where she had recently set that record.

The U.S. team had high expectations for these Games. Davis had won three of four World Cup races this year and finished the season ranked No. 1. Heather Richardson did the same and finished first at the U.S. Olympic trials in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

According to The  Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Speedskating association asked the international governing body for the sport to be allowed to go back to the old suits for the 1,500-meter race, which Davis was also expected to medal in. But even in his original attire, Davis finished a dismal 11th place.

Whether it is the suit or not, it seems to be in the heads of the skaters.

Ted Morris, head of U.S. Speedskating, told Hopkins, "We don't think the suits are having any impact but at the same time we want to make sure when our athletes get on that start line they have confidence and are ready to go. That's priority Number One"

According to The Wall Street Journal, there was a split on the team with some skaters wanting to keep the new suit. But after seven long-track events, no American skater has finished better than seventh. Both Davis and Richardson had dominated on the World Cup circuit this year in the old suits.

The Americans came to the Games feeling they might have an advantage with the new gear, but now it appears just the opposite. Whether or not it's the suits, they certainly seem to have gotten into the heads of the skaters. 

The new suit, designed with input from Lockheed Martin—a defense contractor that, among other things, designs planes—is called the Mach 39. Under Armour is marketing it as the fastest in the sport.

But the new suits weren't used in any competitions until Sochi and so far the results have been Mach Zero. No medals and many disappointing performances. 

While Dutch skaters have won 12 medals, the U.S. has none.

According to The Wall Street Journal, three people with knowledge of the situation said there is a design flaw that could be slowing the skaters down: The vents on the back of the suit that are supposed to let heat escape are instead creating a drag effect that is slowing the skaters.

Richardson, who was favored to medal in the women's 1,000-meter race, was one of the skaters who sent their suits to an Under Armour seamstress to have the panel modified.

It might be true what they say after all.

The clothes make the man (or woman). At least in speed skating.


Diane Pucin is the Olympics lead writer for Bleacher Report. She covered seven Games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @mepucin.