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'We Had Things To Prove': Under Armour Seeks Redemption With New Olympic Speedskating Suits

Under Armour’s speedskating suits were blamed for the American team’s dismal showing at the 2014 Sochi games. A post-Olympic review by the U.S. team vindicated the technology. But the suits have been redesigned, and the company is hoping for redemption in 2018.

“You bet we had things to prove and to come back, and a little bit of redemption of our technical capability, and to prove that we do indeed create and innovate and design great equipment,” says Under Armour’s Chief Innovation Officer Clay Dean ( @deancrew7).

He spoke with Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

Interview Highlights

On complaints of problems in the vent in 2014’s suit, and how this suit differs

“I think the vent, you know, whether it was an issue or not, I think sometimes, psychologically, those things play into it. We think venting the body is still important, and our materials do breathe …

“There’s three different types of material on the uniforms [for this year], and when you see them in the games, you’ll see different colors. So the main body of the suit is a dark blue color … it’s about three different layers — a polyurethane on the outside — and it does create a little bit of a dimpled look on the surface when you see it. There’s white material, which you see on the arms and the legs, and that is what we call H1, and that’s a proprietary material that we’ve developed here at Under Armour. It’s amazing, when you look at all the materials used, we looked at about 100 different materials and 250 different configurations that we tested on the athletes, tested in the wind tunnel, to try to get the best combination of flow, comfort, movement and speed.”

On the configuration and seaming of the suit

“I think one of the biggest innovations in the suit is really the configuration of the suit itself and how it’s actually built. We started to look at how was the athlete in motion — where did he spend the most of his time? And when you look at a speed skater, they’re leaning forward and leaning to the left, and that’s about 80 percent of the time that they’re on the ice. We designed a suit that, when they’re leaned forward and leaning to the left, that was the most comfortable configuration in the suit. Quite honestly, when you stand up straight in the suit, which is how traditionally everything is fit, that’s probably not the most comfortable position to wear the suit. But down low, to the left, that’s where the suit fits you perfect, so the outer, the right leg is a little bit longer in terms of its material. The seaming, when you look at around the waistband, you’ll see a rise from left to right, so it actually doesn’t pull or tug on the body. The suit is really cut and designed with all of its seaming down the legs to enable the right over left movement of the leg as he’s skating and powering away, so it really, for us, makes us look at other sports in the same way, of ‘how would we maximize the athlete’s movement?’ ”

On the psychological aspects of wearing these suits

“I think when we look at the total activity … the speed skaters have actually been skating in our suits and iterating with them for about a year. So they’re familiar with what the suits can do, and what we’ve been able to do is constantly fine-tune, iterate, fine-tune, iterate, so the suits that they’re going to skate with in the Olympics this week, really, they’re very familiar with. They’ve been skating with them in the World Finals, in the World Championships, they’ve been winning medals. We think they’re perhaps more comfortable than they’ve ever been with the suit before, and that helps the psyche of the athlete.”

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