Four years ago in Sochi, Under Armour’s suits for the U.S. speedskating team took a lot of flak after the team failed to medal. The company defended the physics and engineering of their suits, and an internal audit of the speedskating program ultimately placed blame on flaws in their training regimen, unfamiliarity with the new suits, and overconfidence.
This time around Under Armour has taken a more hands-on approach with the team, helping with training regimens in addition to providing suits. Under Armour spent hundreds of hours testing the suits in Specialized’s wind tunnel, including testing many fabrics before settling on the slightly rough H1 fabric used in patches on the skater’s arms and legs. Like the previous suit’s dimpled design, the roughness of the fabric promotes turbulent flow near it. Because turbulent flow follows curved contours better than laminar flow does, air stays attached to the athlete for longer, thereby reducing their drag. The suit is also designed with asymmetric seams that help the athlete stay low and comfortable in the sport’s frequent left turns.
U.S. speedskaters have been competing in a version of the suits since last winter, ensuring that athletes are familiar with the equipment this time around. Whether the new suits and training program will pay off remains to be seen. After their disastrous experience in Sochi, both the team and the company are shy about setting expectations. (Image credits: D. Maloney/Wired; US Speedskating)