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Emery Lehman competes in the men's 10,000 meters during the U.S. Olympic speedskating trials Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Kearns, Utah. Lehman won the event. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Speedskating: New, innovative speedskating suits in works for Sochi

Apparel company, defense contractor team up for more aerodynamic ‘skin.’

First Published Jan 02 2014 01:49 pm • Last Updated Mar 24 2014 11:31 pm

What do you get when you mix a sports merchandise mogul with a company specializing in defense and aerospace?

The fastest speedskating suit in the world, apparently.

At a glance

Olympic trials schedule

At Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns

Short-track speedskating qualifiers

3:30 p.m. Friday » Men’s and women’s 1,500 meters

10 a.m. Saturday » Men’s and women’s 500

10 a.m. Sunday » Men’s and women’s 1,000

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Two pioneering companies — Under Armour and Lockheed Martin, both based in Maryland — have been pouring millions of dollars into a secret project aimed at creating a speedskating suit for Americans at the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia that is more aerodynamic and faster than ever previously seen in the sport, according to a report last month in the Washington Post.

That could be a huge benefit for American skaters, who compete in a sport whose winners are often decided by mere hundredths of seconds. Finding a way to help athletes produce faster times is essential, considering split seconds can determine anywhere from a gold medal to a place off the podium in Sochi.

The suit, named "Mach 39," is the result of more than 100 textiles tested by Under Armour, an athletic apparel company, and Lockheed Martin, the aeronautics and defense giant that typically develops massive objects that reach tremendous speeds, such as fighter jets and missile systems. In the end, the companies settled on a suit — known as a "skin" in speedskating vernacular — that utilizes five fabrics, with each serving a specific function. For example, the suits feature an special air vent along the spine that will allow the body to release heat during racing or training. Discovering the right combination turned out to be a two-year project, according to The Post.

"There’s no question in my mind this is the fastest speedskating suit ever made and it will be the fastest speedskating suit, period," American skater Patrick Meek told the Post.

The suits, which are expected to be officially unveiled within the next two weeks, are obviously targeted to a small-market sport such as speedskating but would allow a platform for Under Armour to showcase its work on the world’s stage. 

"It’s all brand," Under Armour chief operations officer Kip Fulks told The Post. "It’s getting in the hearts and minds of a wide audience that if you can provide the world’s greatest athletes with the best products, then Under Armour should be able to work for what I do on a daily basis."

Ryan Shimabukuro, U.S. Speedskating’s national long track sprint team head coach, wasn’t able to comment further on the suits during the U.S. Olympic Trials this week at the Utah Olympic Oval, but did acknowledge the efforts being put in.

"I’m not at liberty to discuss that, except for the fact that Under Armour is busting their butt to produce the best skin possible," he said.


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ckamrani@sltrib.com



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