Under Armour suits worn by U.S. speedskaters in the Sochi Olympics are being blamed by some for the slow speeds they are turning in, with not a single American finishing better than seventh place in any of the long-track events as of Thursday night.
"It’s hard not to think about (the suits), but we’re doing the best we can," U.S. skater Joey Mantia said after a morning practice at Adler Arena, the Los Angeles Times reported
. "We’re all seasoned athletes here and we’re trying to stay positive here."
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The suits, known as Mach 39, were highly touted by Under Armour in the run up to the Sochi Games, having been developed with help from defense contractor Lockheed Martin.
Under Armour attire, which is frequently worn by athletes and military personnel, consists of a synthetic fabric that absorbs moisture. The Mach 39 line worn by U.S. speedskaters was not used in competitions prior to the Olympics.
The Wall Street Journal reported that several skaters, including speedskater Heather Richardson
, who ranked No. 1 in the 1,000 meters prior to the Sochi Games, had had their suit modified Thursday by an Under Armour seamstress removing an extra piece of rubber in an attempt to gain more speed. Richardson went on to finish in seventh place following the rubber’s removal.
"I would like to think that it's not the suit," gold-medal favorite Shani Davis told reporters after finishing eighth in the 1,000 meter race. "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."
Thus far the Dutch Olympic team has been dominating the speedskating competition.
According to the team’s suit designer, Bert van der Tuuk, he had experimented with a similar ventilation panel employed on the Under Armour Mach 39 suit three years ago, but abandoned it after he found that it had slowed his skaters down due to air getting into the suit and causing a drag, The Wall Street Journal Reported.
"The suit was blowing itself up," van der Tuuk said.
Thus far U.S. Team officials have played down the suit’s possible influence on their skaters, while Kevin Haley, Under Armour’s senior vice president for innovation, has defended the suits.
"The organization is reaching the conclusion it’s not the suits," Haley told Bloomberg News on Friday
. "The bottom line is there are multiple variables that go into the final result, and because these are great athletes who have given everything they have to train for this event for the last four years, everyone is searching for answers to the question of why haven’t these athletes stepped up on the podium."
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