Engineers from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth worked with Under Armour to develop new high-tech racing suits for the U.S. Olympic speedskating team.
But now, after disappointing finishes by U.S. skaters Shani Davis and Heather Richardson at the Games in Sochi, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that some are blaming a design flaw in the suits for slowing the competitors down. The article attributes the concerns to three people familiar with the U.S. team.
Vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are also allowing air to enter and create drag that keeps skaters from staying in the low position they need to achieve maximum speed, these people said. One skater said team members felt they were fighting the suit to maintain correct form.
Kevin Haley, the senior vice president of innovation for Under Armour, which has sponsored the U.S. team since 2011, said he was confident the suits were fast, but, in the absence of medal-winning performances, "we'll move heaven and earth to make them better."
Called the Mach 39, the skintight suit boasted aerodynamic innovations that would give the skaters an American technology advantage against their world rivals.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Under Armour collaborated with Lockheed to fashion the most aerodynamic suit possible, "using computer modeling based on filming the athletes and hundreds of hours of wind tunnel testing." The article said Under Armour used high-speed film of the skaters on the ice, and "worked with Lockheed Martin engineers to analyze how air flows around the skater and setermine key body positions."
In Fort Worth, Lockheed spokesman Ken Ross confirmed that some Fort Worth engineers worked on the suit and issued the following statement, referring other questions to Under Armour.
Lockheed Martin worked with Under Armour's team to create a computational fluid dynamics model to analyze how air flows around the skater. The work included small-scale wind tunnel testing in Lockheed Martin's facilities of different skin materials and development of drag reduction concepts for prototype skins, following by drag testing of specific racing poses at the Glenn L. Martin Wind Tunnel at the University of Maryland. This was a unique collaboration. We're proud to support the US speed skaing team and look forward to seeing them on the medal stand in Sochi.
Under Armour sent the following statement from Haley.
"Under Armour will continue to partner with USA Speed Skating throughout the Sochi competition to help ensure these incredible athletes are best positioned to skate with confidence and capture a spot on the podium. We are committed to providing Team USA with the best possible gear, and Mach 39 is the most scientifically advanced and rigorously tested suit ever featured in Olympic competition. While a multitude of factors ultimately determine on-ice success, many skaters have posted personal-best sea-level heat times, split times or race times this week, and we're rooting for that to translate into medals over these next couple of days."
In another statement,Ted Morris, Executive Director of USA Speed Skating, said the "evidence does not suggest that the suits have contributed to the disappointing results to date."
"However, there are many factors that determine Olympic success and we are constantly making adjustments to improve results. We're working with our athletes, coaches, trainers and Under Armour to figure out what we can do to produce better results for Team USA at these Winter Olympic Games."
According to The Journal, several skaters have sent their suits to an Under Armour seamstress to have the vent modified. For his part, Davis isn't blaming the suit.
"I would like to think that it's not the suit," said Mr. Davis, a two-time gold medalist, who finished eighth in the 1,000 meter despite dominating this season's World Cup circuit. "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."
-- Steve Kaskovich