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U.S. speed skaters scrap new suits for old ones

String of poor results inspires switch to previous Under Armour suit
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American Shani Davis performed well below expectations in the Mach 39 suit. -Getty Images

Before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the U.S. speed skating team announced that it had new suits, the fastest in the world. The Under Armour skin suits, known as the "Mach 39," were tested in wind tunnels in the same way the Dutch and Russian skaters test their suits in wind tunnels.

However, results suggested the opposite.

In the men's 5,000 meters, the top American, Emery Lehmann, was only 16th, and in the ladies 3,000 meters, Jilleanne Rookard was 10th. In the men's 500 meters, the U.S. team had the worst result in its history, with Shani Davis in 24th, Tucker Fredricks in 26th and Mitchell Whitmore in 27th. Although Heather Richardson was fourth in the first 500 meters, she dropped to eighth.

There was still a little confidence left then that the poor results weren't due to the suits, but the 1,000 meters would reveal more: American ladies Richardson and Brittany Bowe had won all 1,000-meter races in the World Cup season, and Davis leads the 1,000-meter World Cup while Brian Hansen is usually seen on the podium as well.

When all of them, even after the best opener Davis ever had, could not maintain the speed but slowed down considerably to take eighth (Davis) and ninth (Hansen) in men's and seventh (Richardson) and eighth (Bowe) in ladies, they were still generous in saying, "There is no excuse. I just didn't have the lap," or, "It felt like I was on a good one, but the time was slower than I expected." When asked if it was the suits, they threw in a quick 'No.' But behind the screens, the U.S. team was searching to solve the problem.

The suits had never been tested in international competition. A Dutch suit manufacturer said he had tested some of the elements of the U.S. suit, but they did not really make a significant difference. The vents on the back of the suit, that should allow for heat to escape, also allow for air to enter and create drag. The skaters feel they have to fight the suits to maintain skating position.

From Saturday on, the skaters will perform in the suits they previously wore in the World Cup events.

In a statement regarding the Under Armour skin suits, Mike Plant, US Speedskating President, wrote:

"For the remainder of the Winter Olympic Games, Team USA speed skaters will be wearing the previously approved Under Armour skin suits used during recent World Cup competition. Under Armour provided US Speedskating with three different suit configurations in advance of Sochi, and we have full confidence in the performance benefits of each of them. 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. Under Armour's mission is to make all athletes better, and they are working tirelessly with Team USA to ensure each athlete steps on the ice with 100-percent confidence so they are positioned to capture a spot on the podium. US Speedskating is proud of its long-term, successful partnership with Under Armour, and we all look forward to the upcoming races."  

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