US Speedskating gambles on new suit, loses big

By Paul Newberry

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 15 2014 11:30 a.m. MST

While Under Armour touted the "Mach 39" as the "fastest speedskating suit in the world" — and the skaters dutifully spouted the party line before the Olympics — there were doubts about the suit all along. Some complained about it being too tight and restricting their breathing. The man who designed the Dutch team's new suits said he had already tried some elements in the American version and found they didn't produce any noticeable improvement; in fact, he thought one feature, a vent-like tab on the back, might actually slow a skater down.

After the first four events in Sochi, it was clear within the U.S. team that something was wrong, even though the Americans weren't necessarily expected to win a medal in any of those races.

For the men's 1,000 on Wednesday, one U.S. skater — Haley wouldn't say who — skated in a slightly different version of the new suit, essentially for testing purposes. There was no significant improvement in the time. Davis finished eighth, ending his bid to become the first male speedskater to win the same event three straight times.

On Thursday, when Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe competed in the women's 1,000, an event they had dominated all season, more desperate measures were taken. The vent on the back of Richardson's suit was covered up. Again, there was no significant improvement, as Richardson finished seventh and Bowe eighth.

With no competition at the oval on Friday, the Americans decided enough was enough.

They received permission from the International Skating Union to go back to the Under Armour suit they used before the Mach 39.

It was a huge blow to U.S. Speedskating, maybe even worse for Under Armour after its grand claims.

"That's marketing. People wanted to make their product stand out," U.S. coach Matt Kooreman said. "And when you don't live up to that expectation, you get it thrown back at you pretty harshly."

The debacle was complete.

AP Sports Writers Raf Casert and Beth Harris in Sochi contributed to this report.

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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