U.S. Speedskaters’ Suit Switch Fails to Bring Medals at Olympics

The U.S. speedskating team’s switch to an older uniform after concerns that a newer, more technical suit was slowing athletes produced the same result: No medals.

“We’ll have to test the suit against the other suits to see if it really made that big of a difference,” Shani Davis, the two-time defending silver medalist, told reporters after finishing 11th in the 1500-meter speedskating race yesterday at the Sochi Games. “If you have a bad performance at a World Cup because of a suit then it’s OK, you switch the suit. You can’t do that at the Olympics. There’s too much riding on it.”

Under Armour Inc. made three outfits and the team had been wearing the Mach 39, which the apparel maker described as the fastest suit in the world. After struggling in their first six events in Sochi, the speedskaters voted to switch the entire team to a suit that was used in World Cup races.

Brian Hansen was the highest-placed American in the 1500, finishing seventh at the Adler Arena Skating Center. He was 0.59 seconds slower than Poland’s Zbigniew Brodka, who beat Koen Verweij of the Netherlands to the gold medal by 0.003 seconds. Canada’s Denny Morrison, the silver medalist in the 1000 meters, was third.

Brodka, 29, who finished 27th in this event at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, won a race so close it was determined by a photo finish. About 30 seconds after Verweij finished in the final pairing of the day, timekeepers announced that Brodka was the winner -- 1:45.006 to 1:45.009. Brodka thrust his arms in the air in triumph as the result flashed on the scoreboards.

“After the finish I didn’t know it right away, because they showed Verweij as the winner,” said Brodka, the first Olympic speedskating champion from Poland. “When I saw I had won, it was an unbelievable feeling.”

Suits Modified

Outfits made by Baltimore-based Under Armour (UA) came under scrutiny after no American finished better than seventh place in a speedskating event through the first six races. Four Under Armour employees worked through the night to modify the older World Cup suits to comply with Olympic regulations, U.S. Speedskating executive director Ted Morris said in a text message.

“We gave them our suits last night and the team at Under Armour worked very hard to adjust all the labels,” Jonathan Kuck, who finished 37th, told reporters. “I was positive about going back to the old suit. Skated with it all World Cup season and it’s not always a good idea to switch things up at the last minute.”

The U.S. won four medals in speedskating in the 2010 Vancouver Games. Some have blamed a design flaw in the suits’ rear ventilation panels, the Wall Street Journal reported two days ago, citing three unidentified people familiar with the U.S. team.

No problems were discovered with the ventilation panels of the suits in six weeks of testing leading up to the games or after they were delivered, Kevin Plank, Under Armour chief executive officer and founder, said two days ago in an interview.

“I’m not necessarily sure what is to blame,” Davis said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Spillane in Sochi at cspillane3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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