Flap Erupts Over Under Armour Speedskating Suit
The painstakingly designed and aerodynamically tested speedskating suits worn by the U.S. Olympians that bear the Under Armour logo “have a design flaw that may be slowing down skaters, according to three people familiar with the U.S. team,” the Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Robinson and Sara Germano reported online yesterday.
“Vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are also allowing air to enter and create drag that keeps skaters from staying in the low position they need to achieve maximum speed, these people said,” they write.
The U.S. team’s results have been so disappointing that the top tweet on @USSpeedskating this morning links to a Liberty Mutual video about overcoming setbacks (“Life doesn’t play nice. No matter how hard you prepare, you’re going to be caught off guard.”)
By all accounts, Under Armour pulled out all the stops in preparing what had been “billed as the greatest racing suit in speedskating history, one that potentially would forever change the sport,” ESPN.com’s Wayne Drehs writes.
“To understand the materials and components that went into the revolutionary Mach 39, you needed a degree in rocket science. Literally,” he continues. “Aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin partnered with Under Armour to create the secret weapon that everyone believed would lead to American gold in Sochi.”
Indeed, “by partnering with Lockheed Martin we brought in an organization with 60,000 engineers,” Kevin Haley, Under Armour’s SVP of innovation told SI.com’s Tim Newcomb last month. “Although we don’t need all 60,000, they have the right experts to do modeling and fluid dynamics off motion-capture filming.”
Yesterday, Haley “stood behind the new suit,” writes the Chicago Tribune’s Jared S. Hopkins, saying in a statement: “The Mach 39 is the most scientifically advanced and rigorously tested suit ever featured in Olympic competition. While a multitude of factors ultimately determine on-ice success, many skaters have posted personal-best sea-level heat times, split times or race times this week, and we’re rooting for that to translate into medals over these next couple of days.”
U.S. team officials were working last night to get approval to race in suits worn during World Cup competition that were also manufactured by Under Armour, Hopkins reports, pointing out that there are six events to come.
“The $244 billion sportswear industry is unusually brand-obsessed, and Under Armour has come from nowhere to establish itself as a household name alongside industry titans like Nike and Reebok (which Adidas owns),” Lydia DePillis observed in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog last Friday. She then cited the five “most important things Under Armour did to break into the top ranks,” the foremost being its emphasis on “the athletics part of athletic wear.”
The occasion for the story was an Adidas suit filed in a federal court in Delaware Feb. 4 claiming that Under Armour’s recently acquired MapMyFitness fitness-device technology infringed on patents Adidas obtained in the mid-2000s.
Earlier this week, Under Armour and Nike settled a trademark infringement lawsuit in which the upstart apparel brand accused the latter of illegally using versions of the “I Will” slogan, Lorraine Mirabella reported in the Baltimore Sun. The terms were confidential. Nike had denied the infringement.
Meanwhile, Bruce Orwall and Betsy McKay report on the difficulty Olympic spectators are experiencing buying souvenirs — from track suits to branded tchotchkes — at the Sochi Games in another story in the Wall Street Journal this morning. The wait to get inside Russian retailer Bosco di Ciliegi, the official licensee and only superstore in the Olympic Park, is often an hour or more and merchandise stands are few and “nondescript.”
“In an age of hypercommercialization, it seems impossible that an event like the Olympics would be under-merchandised. But this is Russia,” write Orwall and McKay.
“We definitely underestimated the interest in this during the Games, and in Russia generally,” Olga Chernosvitova, Bosco’s VP of marketing, told the reporters. “We didn’t expect this demand.”
Isn’t it refreshing to hear someone just take responsibility and say, essentially, “we screwed up,” rather than, for example, blaming the metrics for what are really flawed marketing strategies and inefficient spending?, as Kevin J. Clancy and Randy L. Stone suggested in a 2005 Harvard Business Review piece.
Similarly, two-time Gold medal winner Shani Davis refused to blame the Under Armour suit for his eighth-place finish in the 1,500 meters despite an explosive start. “I would like to think that it’s not the suit,” he told the WSJ. “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.”