The U.S. speedskating team is desperately trying to make sense of its miserable performance during the first week of the Winter Olympics, and much of the speculation has turned to a new high-tech skinsuit.
The secretive Under Armour suit was developed with help from aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin.
The Americans unveiled the “Mach 39’’ just before arriving in Sochi, touting it as the “fastest speedskating suit in the world’’ and firmly convinced it would give them a big advantage over rival teams such as the Netherlands.
Instead, the Dutch are dominating, the Americans look like they’re skating in quicksand, and everyone is wondering if the suit is actually a drag on performance.
After a podium-filled season on the World Cup circuit, no U.S. skater has finished higher than seventh through six of 12 Olympic events. Among those who have failed to perform up to expectations: two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis and female stars Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe.
Team officials huddled in the stands after the women’s 1,000 meters, trying to figure out what they can do to turn things around. Friday was an off day at Adler Arena, giving the Americans some time to make adjustments.
“We’re not doing very good,’’ coach Kip Carpenter, a former skater and Olympic medalist, said bluntly. “Coming off one of our stronger fall seasons, we were expecting to take home a bunch of medals and lots of hardware. But we still have more opportunities. We’re doing our best to stay positive and stay focused.’’
No significant edge
The suits have become a convenient target for explaining the American woes, since they were unveiled so late in the game, without giving the skaters a chance to wear them in competition. Even before the Olympics began, there was plenty of skepticism from the designer of the Dutch suits that the American technology would provide any sort of significant edge.
U.S. coaches scrambled to defend the suits, even while an effort was underway to get the International Skating Union to allow American skaters to switch back to their previously approved suits if they wanted.
In the meantime, Richardson made some low-tech alterations. “They did adjust one part on the back, but it was just putting rubber over the mesh there,’’ she said after a hugely disappointing performance in the 1,000, a race she dominated during the World Cup season. “It had no effect, really.’’
Davis was a two-time Olympic champion in the men’s 1,000 and looking to become the first male speedskater to win the same event at three straight games. His eighth-place showing was the first indication that something might be seriously wrong with the U.S. preparation.
On Thursday, Richardson finished seventh and Bowe eighth over the same distance for the continued…