SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The U.S. speed skating team were granted permission to ditch their high-tech Under Armour Olympic outfits by the IOC on Saturday, less than an hour before they try to win their first medal of the Sochi Games in the men’s 1,500 meters.
The International Olympic Committee approved the switch back to skinsuits, made by the same American company and worn before the Winter Olympics, for the remaining six races in Sochi.
“The IOC has approved the USA skinsuit switch and the team will take to the ice in their World Cup suits in competition on Saturday,” a short statement read.
American athletes took to the Adler Arena oval for training earlier on Saturday wearing three different suits. In final preparations before Saturday’s race, two U.S. skaters wore an all black suit with blue coloring from the elbow to the wrist with ‘U.S.A’ labeled on the back right of the outfit.
U.S. Speed Skating President Mike Plant said on Friday the team, who have yet to win a medal in six events at the Adler Arena, had planned to make the switch but some members of the team doubted whether the change would help.
“It’s more about trying to make a change where we can feel good about performances today,” American coach Matthew Kooreman told reporters at the arena before the IOC ruling.
”I don’t know if there is any hard evidence that says we had to, but we’re just trying to change the mood a little bit.
”We know we have good suits from Under Armour that we have set world records in before, so just something to spark a little bit of change in the vibe.
“I think people have now got something to lock on to and say ‘OK, this is a change’. Now it’s up to us to perform, there are no excuses anymore.”
While the American speed skaters are still looking for a first medal in Sochi, the Dutch have won 12, including four golds, from the first six events.
Speculation about the suits began to rise on Wednesday following the disappointing display by Shani Davis.
The double Olympic champion, who has won three of four World Cup races this season, finished eighth in Wednesday’s 1,000m event. He will also compete in Saturday’s 1,500m, an event he has finished second in at the last two Olympics.
Under Armour said on Friday that the organization overseeing the American speed skating team had requested the option to switch from the Mach 39 suit that was marketed as the fastest in the sport’s history.
Kooreman said there had been individual meetings with the skaters before a group discussion, and not all were happy with the switch which meant all had to change their suits.
“When you lose you doubt, you are looking at your skates, your suits everything, why are we under-performing essentially,” he said. “I think it looks worse because the Dutch are performing so well that it really rubbed it in our faces.”
American skater Anna Ringsred, who finished 26th in the women’s 3,000m, thought the low-altitude ice near the Black Sea coast had been a “bigger problem”.
“A lot of us, myself included, get used to the fast ice and we train on fast ice all the time and it really is quite different when you come to slower ice like this,” she told reporters.
She has not been included in the team meetings because her involvement in Sochi is over.
“The people who have been doing really well here are those that generally train on it all the time. It favors people who are bigger. You see some of the (South) Koreans are also struggling quite a bit and I think if you are small it really is hard to work on this kind of ice.”
Shares in the sports apparel maker fell 2.4 percent on Friday. The hi-tech athletic sportswear maker recently reported a 35 percent jump in revenue from apparel in the quarter ended December 31.
Additional reporting by Dhanya Skariachan and Phil Wahba in New York and Karolos Grohmann in Sochi; Editing by Peter Rutherford