Olympics-Speed skating-US suit switch yet to be approved-ISU

SOCHI, Russia Sat Feb 15, 2014 1:34pm IST

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SOCHI, Russia Feb 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. speed skating team's plan to ditch their Under Armour Olympic outfits, which have been blamed for their lack of medals in Sochi, is still under review, the sports governing body and the IOC said on Saturday.

U.S Speed skating President Mike Plant said on Friday the team would switch back to skin suits, also made by the U.S. 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 at least three different suits, some all black and some with a U.S. flag 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.

Plant said the Americans had brought three different suits to Russia 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."

Plant also stressed that U.S. Speed skating continues to have confidence in a long-term partnership with Under Armour.

The sports apparel maker told Reuters earlier that the organisation overseeing the American speed skating team, which has yet to clinch a medal after six of 12 events, had requested the option to switch.

Speculation about the underlying causes of the U.S. athletes' poor start to the Sochi Games began after two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis, a favourite 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 on Thursday, leaving the United States still searching for their first medal at the Sochi oval.

Some of that concern was focused on the new "Mach 39" suits made by Under Armour, which Lockheed Martin helped design and was marketed as the fastest-ever in the sport.

It was kept under wraps until after the U.S. Olympic team was decided in December trials.

SUIT'S A SUIT

Vents on the back of the suit, intended to help heat escape, were instead allowing air to enter and create drag, the Wall Street Journal cited anonymous sources as saying on Thursday.

Davis did not wear the suit, which had undergone extensive wind-tunnel analysis by aerospace contractors, during training on Friday as he went through preparations for Saturday's 1,500 metres race.

Brian Hansen, Joey Mantia and Jonathan Kuck Will also skate for America in Saturday's race.

Kevin Haley, Under Armour's senior vice-president for innovation, said the U.S. team would drop suits worn in the first six events, and instead use earlier versions that do not have special flow molding and the ventilated panel in the back meant to help skaters cut through the air more effectively.

Haley 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 are not blaming the Mach 39.

"We'll be racing with new suits that hopefully bring us new luck," U.S. speedskater Brian Hansen said on his Facebook page.

Several members of the American speed skating team have leapt to the defence of the Mach 39, dismissing suggestions it was to blame for their lack of medals.

And U.S. Speed skating earlier on Friday declined to blame Under Armour, saying it had unearthed no evidence that its suits had played a role in the team's underwhelming performance.

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 Dec. 31.

"It's a suit that the athletes have confidence in and achieved results before," Haley told Reuters by telephone.

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

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