The U.S. speedskating team has decided to switch to a different speedsuit following a spate of failures by American skaters to medal in Sochi, choosing to wear an earlier version made by the same manufacturer, Under Armour.
Mike Plant, U.S. speedskating president, said in a statement Friday that the team will be reverting to the suits that they wore during the World Cup.
Plant did not make a connection between the suits and athletes’ lackluster performance at the Olympics. He said the team had “full confidence in the performance benefits” of the suits even after acknowledging skaters would no longer be wearing 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,” Plant said.
Earlier in the day, Ted Morris, the executive director of U.S. Speedskating, told ABC News in a phone interview that the team had voted to submit a different design for approval by the International Olympic Committee and the International Skating Union.
Sources tell ESPN that those bodies quickly approved the design, which had been used by the American team in competition prior to the Olympics.
Morris suggested there had been some division among the athletes about whether to keep the new suits, which are called Mach 39.
“One of the challenges or drawbacks is that it’s an all-or-nothing deal,” he said. If the team votes to go with the old design, all American skaters would be bound to use them for the rest of the Olympics.
So far no American speedskater has won a medal at the Sochi Olympics, despite entering the games with high hopes. Morris said the team has engaged in a “fair amount of soul searching” and identified many possible reasons, including soft sea-level ice in Sochi, that could explain the American performances. Ultimately, they decided the suits were the one element they could control.
“What we’ve tried to focus on in the last two days is what we can do that might help us succeed,” Morris said.
He suggested that the decision to explore changing the suits was spurred largely by the athletes.
“There are people that whispered and athletes may have picked up on that,” he said. “People have it in their mind that it might be one reason. Maybe it’s more mental change than a physical change so we agreed to at least look into it.”
The Mach 39 is a high-tech suit, designed in partnership with fighter jet maker Lockheed Martin. It was tested in wind tunnels and contains special aerodynamic elements designed to make the skaters as fast as possible. But some athletes have complained that a vent on the back felt like it was slowing them down in Sochi.
Asked if it was a mistake to introduce the Mach 39 just weeks before the Olympics and without testing in competition, Morris said it was important to preserve the technological edge before the Olympics. Keeping it under wraps ensured no team could copy it.
“It’s easy to say that in hindsight right now. If we were sitting on five medals right now I don’t think that would be part of the conversation,” Morris said.
He said the team was also looking to change its race tactics to adjust to the sea-level ice in Sochi, which is softer and does not allow the skaters to glide like the harder ice they are accustomed to at their training center in Salt Lake City, Utah.