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US Skaters Struggling, Focus on High-Tech Suits

SOCHI/Cheektowaga (AP/WBEN) - The US speedskating team is desperately trying to figure out why it's had such a miserable performance the first week of the Sochi Olympics - and much of the speculation has turned to its new high-tech skinsuit.
The much-heralded Under Armour suit was developed with help from aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin. Now, some are wondering if it's actually a drag on performance.
Dr. Michael Holden is a Rocket Scientist and aeronautical engineer at Calspan in Cheektowaga. He has worked in a wind tunnel with US Olympic athletes in the past to improve their aerodynamics. "The one thing that sticks out in everything we do," Holden said, "is that the suits are important, but the body positions are way more important."

In speedskating, the slightest movement of a hand can reduce drag and shave hundredths of a second off an athletes time.

"A good to bad suit in skating might make seven-tenths of a pound drag. A poor position could give you three to ten pounds drag. So the key thing about the suits is first of all do you believe in them, do you think you've got the best in the world? Second, do they allow you to perform athleticall at your best too?"

Holden says that perhaps more harmful than any flawed suit is the mental impact of believing you have a flawed suit. "If I was an athlete, I'd find a suit that I've won in and skate in that. If you start to get a feeling that there's no way you're going to win because the suits are dragging you back, then I don't think you can win."

After a strong season on the World Cup circuit, no U.S. skater has finished higher than seventh through six of 12 Olympic events. 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.

"Any athlete that's been through a wind tunnel will know that the suits are not the most important thing," Holden said. "But still, if they don't win, it's a pretty damn good excuse."

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