Under Armour/Lockheed Martin Mach 39 Speedskating Suit
Sometimes new technology can hinder an athlete’s performance, even when competing in the Olympics. This may or may not be the case with the US speedskating Olympic team, who were sorely upset at their results using a new top-secret suit designed and developed in collaboration between Under Armour and Lockheed Martin.
The suit itself was created by Under Armour and uses what the company calls its ArmourGlide material, which is purported to reduce friction when moving, an important factor in speedskating. The hotrod pin-striping of the suit was designed for heat dissipation, allowing the athletes to remain cool during the competition. The skin-suit was actually designed using five different styled textiles, including polyurethane with shapes designed to disrupt air-flow, a rerouted stretchable zipper for comfort and minimal contour, and the company’s trademarked moisture wicking material.
Lockheed Martin engineers tested the design using modeling and fluid dynamics provided by high-speed motion capturing cameras to make sure the skin suit was as aerodynamic as it could be. Testing was also done using Lockheed’s wind tunnels along with variously sized mannequins, which helped in placing the suit's various materials for the “ultimate” in air dissipation.
Unfortunately, the Mach 39 suit wasn’t the ultimate in anything except highlighting the speedskater’s figures, as the US team failed on a dramatic scale. The athletes pointed to a panel of mesh fabric on the back of the suit as the culprit for “creating excess drag.” As a result, Olympic officials allowed the US team to change their suits to a previous version (also made by Under Armour) in hopes of doing better in the competitions, but this didn’t help the athletes any more than the Mach 39 did, and they continued to under-perform.
Under Armour, on the other hand, continued to tout the Mach 39 as a marvel of speedskating technology, (even though there is no longer any mention of it on its website) despite the dismal performances. Suffice it to say, sometimes technology can’t enhance an athlete’s natural performance -- it certainly didn’t help the US speedskating team.