So why did Shani Davis fail in his bid for a third straight gold medal in the 1,000 metres, finishing eighth on Wednesday; world-record holder Heather Richardson falter in the women's 1,000 on Thursday, coming seventh; and why has no American has placed higher than seventh in any of the six events held up until Thursday?
Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, some suspicion is being thrown at the one unifying thread — make that unifying threads —among the American racers.
We're talking about the team's new, high-tech speedskating suits from Under Armour, a sartorial innovation that was supposed to lift the American team to golden times at the 2014 Olympics.
But one week into the Winter Games and some are suspecting it's the Under Armour gear that's literally holding US skaters back in a sport where every fraction of a second matters.
From the Wall Street Journal:
According to three people familiar with the US team, these suits—which were designed by apparel sponsor Under Armour and billed before the Games as a major advantage—have a design flaw that may be slowing the skaters down. These people said that vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are allowing air to enter the suit and create drag that keeps the skaters from staying in the "low" position they need to achieve maximum speed. One skater said team members felt they were fighting the suit to maintain correct form.
Several skaters, including 1,000 world-record holder Heather Richardson, sent their suits to an Under Armour seamstress Thursday to have the panel modified with an extra piece of rubber. Even after the alternation, Richardson finished seventh—more than a second slower than the winner.
The Wall Street Journal reports that even skaters and coaches from other countries have remarked on how the suits seem to be slowing down the US team. The Americans, however, are being publicly reserved when it comes to the uniform's effect on their times. Davis said he "would like to think" it's not the suit that caused his downfall in the 1,000 while team coach Ryan Shimabukuro refused to take aim at a sponsor.
"I would like to think that it's not the suit," said Davis, who finished eighth in the 1,000. "I would never blame the suit. I'd much rather blame myself. I just wasn't able to do it today, but other people were."
Davis cannot change back to his old Nike suit even if he wants to as Olympic rules dictate that all members of a team must wear the same uniform. It would seem that the American team's major mistake was to not test these out in a lesser competition before wearing them at the Olympics.
Seems like you'd really want to see the suits are performance-enhancing instead of just taking a company's word for it. (Under Armour told the WSJ that all the feedback they've received has been positive and that the suits went through 300 hours of wind tunnel testing.)
So is this sour grapes and a simple scapegoating? Or is it something more? While we might never know for sure, Under Armour's deal with the US team expires after these Games. Whether that deal is renewed or not for the 2018 Games may tell us all we need to know.