Laura Seitz, Deseret News
KEARNS — In a sport where one-hundredth of a second could mean winning or losing a medal, a new piece of high-tech gear could give American speedskaters an edge at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.
After two years of top-secret research and development, the U.S. speedskating team will be using a first-of-its-kind suit in Russia.
Sportswear company Under Armour worked with Lockheed Martin, makers of the F-16, to create the suit.
"They took fighter-jet knowledge; these are guys that work on that kind of stuff,” said Chris Laughman with Under Armour.
In a locker-room unveiling a few weeks ago, the team got its going-away gift for Sochi. It’s call the Mach 39, and Under Armour let the skaters try it on. It's a speedskating suit, a skin, designed to give U.S. speedskaters an advantage over competitors in Sochi.
"(It’s) basically the fastest suit in the entire world, I think,” said first-time Olympian Patrick Meek. “Some of the features right now are completely unbelievable."
The high-tech design features hundreds of tiny beads to divert airflow, raised veins of material on arms and legs, low-friction fabric where body parts rub together, a tight-fitting hood, and a one-of-a-kind stretch zipper that slants across the body.
Manufacturers used a lot of the tricks of the fighter jet business, including 300 hours of wind-tunnel testing with mannequins.
"We have done over 225 different configurations of textiles through this wind-tunnel testing," said Mark Cumiskey, director of materials innovation at Under Armour. "These aerodynamic features have been recommended by Lockheed Martin to reduce the drag.”
What the skaters really want to know is whether that fighter-jet know-how really produces a suit faster than the Swift Suit used in competitions for years.
"Consistently, this suit, in every mannequin configuration, creamed the Swift Suit. It wasn't close,” Cumiskey said. “It's going to crush the Swift Suit. Without a doubt, I feel confident that this is a faster suit."
"It's amazing,” Olympian Heather Richardson said. “They've come a long way from the first one. I'm really excited to get out on the ice and see how fast it goes."
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