The speedskating competition begins Saturday in Sochi, which means Olympic fans will get their first look at Under Armour’s highly-touted Mach39 suit. The suit was specially-engineered by the growing Baltimore-based sports apparel company with assistance from Lockheed Martin aerodynamics engineers, and competitors expect big things.
But just what kind of impact can a high-tech suit have in speedskating? One independent analysis suggests that while the suit could, in fact, be much faster than others on the ice, Under Armour might have left some time on the table.
“The design concept of the UA-Lockheed-Martin Mach39 is brilliant,” said Jay White, chief technical director of Falcon Pursuit, a Phoenix-based sport analytics and optimization company. “Final delivery is always the greater challenge in that you have to make it fit to [the] athlete.”
White says the suit could perform a full half-second faster in the 1,000-meter race, which would prove significant. At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, both the men’s 500- and 1,000-meter races were decided by less than two-tenths of a second. The suits could especially have an impact in the longer races. In Vancouver, gold and silver in the men’s 5,000-meter was decided by 2.35 seconds.
An Under Armour official noted that the Falcon Pursuit group did not have access to the actual suit to make its assessment.
“The analysis is based on photos that do not depict the final UA Mach39 suit design or execution. We are confident based on the actual suit testing that the medal count in Sochi will speak for itself,” Kevin Haley, Under Armour’s senior vice president of innovation said in an email.
The independent review had plenty of critiques and suggestions, chief among them, addressing an apparent gap between the suit’s hood and the skater’s neck — “a mini air brake,” White called it.
“That may override the aero gains of other components,” White said, suggesting skaters use tape or an added exit vent.
Overall, though, White’s assessment was optimistic about the suit’s performance in Sochi. The actual impact won’t be known until skaters hit the ice – and ultimately, the podium.