SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The U.S. speed skating team were given permission to ditch their high-tech Under Armour outfits by the IOC on Saturday, but the switch failed to change their fortunes as they finished well outside the medals in the men’s 1,500 meters at the Sochi Games.
The International Olympic Committee approved the switch back to skinsuits, made by the same American company and worn before the Winter Olympics, for the remaining six races in Sochi less than an hour before Saturday’s medal event.
“The IOC has approved the USA skinsuit switch and the team will take to the ice in their World Cup suits in competition on Saturday,” a short statement read.
U.S. skaters took to Adler Arena oval for training earlier in the day wearing three different suits, but sported an all black one with blue coloring from the elbow to the wrist with ‘U.S.A’ labeled on the back right of the outfit for the race.
The switch did not provide the spark they were looking for.
Double Olympic champion Shani Davis could do no better than 11th, while Brian Hansen was seventh, Joey Mantia 22nd and Jonathan Kuck 37th, leaving the Americans waiting for their first medal of any color at Adler Arena.
“I feel like the damage of the suit was already done,” Davis told reporters of the decision to ditch the ‘Mach 39’, which had been labeled the fastest suit ever made.
“I think the best thing would have been to have made sure that these suits were what the people said they were so that we can actually know going into the races, instead of finding out on one of the biggest races of our lives.”
U.S. Speed Skating President Mike Plant said on Friday that they had planned to make the switch but some members of the team hinted at division in the camp.
“It’s more about trying to make a change where we can feel good about performances today,” American coach Matthew Kooreman told reporters at the arena before the IOC ruling.
”I don’t know if there is any hard evidence that says we had to, but we’re just trying to change the mood a little bit.
”We know we have good suits from Under Armour that we have set world records in before, so just something to spark a little bit of change in the vibe.
“I think people have now got something to lock on to and say ‘OK, this is a change’. Now it’s up to us to perform, there are no excuses anymore.”
While the American speed skaters are still looking for a first medal in Sochi, the Dutch have won 13, including four golds, from the first seven events.
Speculation about the suits began to rise on Wednesday following a disappointing display by Davis, who has won three of four World Cup races this season but finished eighth in Wednesday’s 1,000m event.
He fared no better back in the old suit for the 1,500m - an event he has finished second in at the previous two Olympics.
Kooreman said there had been individual meetings with the skaters before a group discussion, and not all were happy with the switch which meant all had to change their suits.
“When you lose you doubt, you are looking at your skates, your suits everything, why are we under-performing essentially,” he said. “I think it looks worse because the Dutch are performing so well that it really rubbed it in our faces.”
American skater Anna Ringsred, who finished 26th in the women’s 3,000m, thought the low-altitude ice near the Black Sea coast had been a “bigger problem”.
“A lot of us, myself included, get used to the fast ice and we train on fast ice all the time and it really is quite different when you come to slower ice like this,” she told reporters.
She has not been included in the team meetings because her involvement in Sochi is over.
”The people who have been doing really well here are those that generally train on it all the time. It favors people who are bigger. You see some of the (South) Koreans are also struggling quite a bit and I think if you are small it really is hard to work on this kind of ice.
Shares in the sports apparel maker 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 December 31.
Additional reporting by Dhanya Skariachan and Phil Wahba in New York and Karolos Grohmann and Mike Collett-White in Sochi; Editing by Peter Rutherford