Speed skating: U.S. suit switch yet to be approved - ISU

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 15, 2014 4:41 AM

By Patrick Johnston

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The U.S. speed skating team's plan to ditch their much-lauded Under Armour Olympic outfits is still under review, the sport's governing body said on Saturday, with an American coach doubtful whether the switch would improve their medal hopes.

U.S. Speed skating President Mike Plant said on Friday the team would switch back to skin suits, made by the same American company but worn prior to the Winter Olympics, for the remaining six races in Sochi.

American athletes took to the Adler Arena oval for training on Saturday wearing three different suits - the 'Mach 39' billed as "the fastest ever", one all black and one with a U.S. flag and team logo on them. Some American skaters wore jackets.

"A request to change the racing suits of the USA long track Speed Skating squad is currently under review," the ISU said in an email to Reuters.

"The proposed suits were approved by the ISU at the beginning of the season for use during the ISU World Cups and Championships, however, for use during the Olympic Winter Games the suits must comply with IOC Rule 50 and subsequently ISU Rule 223.

"If these requirements are met then the ISU has no issue with this change."

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the body was also happy with the switch but it had not been approved yet.

"We are aware of it. This is in process. As long as it complies with IOC rules we do not have an issue. It is not completed yet," he told reporters on Saturday.

American coach Matthew Kooreman said "for sure" his skaters would be wearing their World Cup suits for the men's 1,500 meters later on Saturday but was unsure if they would make a big difference to times.

"Its more about trying to make a change where we can feel good about performances today," he told reporters after training at the Adler Arena.

"I don't know if there is any hard evidence that says we had to, but we're just trying to change the mood a little bit. We know we have good suits from Under Armour that we have set world records in before so just something to spark a little bit of change in the vibe.

"I think people have now got something to lock onto and say 'OK this is a change' now it's up to us to perform, there are no excuses anymore."

Kooreman said there had been individual meetings with all the skaters before a group discussion but not all were happy with the switch, which, if approved, means all will have to change.

"Probably not unanimous across the board but people are hopeful," the coach added.

"To me it was just a mind game. It is something we have eliminated now maybe one small piece of doubt people had but now mentally they are focused.

"When you lose you doubt, you are looking at your skates, your suits everything, why are we under performing essentially. I think it looks worse because the Dutch are performing so well that it really rubbed it I our faces."

While the Americans have been left looking for a first medal the Dutch have won 12, including four golds, from the first six events.

Plant said the Americans had no doubts about the quality of the three Under Armour suits provided for the Olympics.

"Under Armour provided U.S. Speed skating with three different suit configurations in advance of Sochi, and we have full confidence in the performance benefits of each of them," Plant said on Friday.

"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."

The sports apparel maker told Reuters on Friday that the organization overseeing the American speed skating team had requested the option to switch from the suit that was marketed as the fastest-ever in the sport.

Speculation about the underlying causes of the U.S. athletes' poor start to the Sochi Games began after twice Olympic champion Shani Davis, a favorite for gold after winning three of four World Cup races this season, finished eighth in Wednesday's 1,000m event.

Women's 1,000m World Cup leader Heather Richardson and world record holder Brittany Bowe also floundered over the distance in the women's event.

China's Zhang Hong won the women's 1,000m with Kooreman dismissing the suit as a factor in Richardson and Bowe missing out on gold.

Davis told reporters on Saturday he would talk about the suits after the 1,500m race in which Brian Hansen, Joey Mantia and Jonathan Kuck will also skate for America.

Kevin Haley, Under Armour's senior vice-president for innovation, told Reuters that only four skaters or so had asked for the change in the suits and that the "vast majority" of U.S. speed skaters were not blaming the Mach 39 for their disappointing results.

Under Armour shares fell 2.4 percent on Friday. The hi-tech athletic sportswear maker recently reported a 35 percent jump in revenue from apparel in the quarter ended December 31.

(Additional reporting by Dhanya Skariachan and Phil Wahba in New York and Karolos Grohmann in Sochi; Editing by Peter Rutherford)