By Dhanya Skariachan and Phil Wahba
Feb 14 U.S. speed-skaters decided on Friday to drop new, specially designed Under Armour Inc suits that media reports have linked to a dismal showing at the Sochi Games, reverting to apparel worn during recent World Cup events.
U.S. Speedskating President Mike Plant said the team, which has yet to clinch a medal at Sochi, will switch back to skin suits also made by the U.S. company but worn prior to the Winter Olympics.
"Under Armour provided U.S. Speedskating with three different suit configurations in advance of Sochi, and we have full confidence in the performance benefits of each of them," Plant said.
"We are constantly evaluating all aspects of race preparation and execution to help our athletes improve their output and maximize their physical and psychological advantages."
Plant also stressed that U.S. Speedskating continues to have confidence in a long-term partnership with Under Armour.
The sports apparel maker told Reuters earlier that the organization overseeing the American speedskating team, which has yet to clinch a medal after six of 12 events, had requested the option to switch.
Speculation about the underlying causes of the U.S. athletes' poor start to the Sochi Games began after two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis, a favorite for gold after winning three of four World Cup races this season, finished eighth in Wednesday's 1,000m event.
Women's 1,000m World Cup leader Heather Richardson and world record holder Brittany Bowe also floundered over the distance in the women's event on Thursday, leaving the United States still searching for their first medal at the Sochi oval.
Some of that concern was focused on the new "Mach 39" suits made by Under Armour, which Lockheed Martin helped design and was marketed as the fastest-ever in the sport. It was kept under wraps until after the U.S. Olympic team was decided in December trials.
SUIT'S A SUIT
Vents on back of the suit, intended to help dissipate heat, to escape, were instead allowing air to enter and create drag, the Wall Street Journal cited anonymous sources as saying on Thursday.
Davis did not wear the suit, which had undergone extensive wind-tunnel analysis by aerospace contractors, during training on Friday as he went through preparations for Saturday's 1,500 metres race.
Kevin Haley, Under Armour's senior vice-president for innovation, said the U.S. team would drop suits worn in the first six events, and instead use earlier versions that don't have special flow molding and the ventilated panel in the back meant to help skaters cut through the air more effectively.
Haley told Reuters that only four skaters or so had asked for the change in the suits and that the "vast majority" of U.S. speedskaters are not blaming the Mach 39.
"We'll be racing with new suits that hopefully bring us new luck," U.S. speedskater Brian Hansen said on his Facebook page.
Several members of the American speed skating team have leapt to the defense of the Mach 39, dismissing suggestions it was to blame for their lack of medals.
And U.S. Speedskating earlier on Friday declined to blame Under Armour, saying it had unearthed no evidence that its suits had played a role in the team's underwhelming performance.
Neither world skating's governing body, the International Skating union, nor the International Olympic Committee, were available for comment when contacted by Reuters in Sochi.
Under Armour shares fell 2.4 percent on Friday. The hi-tech athletic sportswear maker recently reported a 35 percent jump in revenue from apparel in the quarter ended Dec. 31.
"It's a suit that the athletes have confidence in and achieved results before," Haley told Reuters by telephone.