SBD/February 17, 2014/Olympics

U.S. Speedskaters Fail To Medal Despite Switching To Old Under Armour Suits

U.S. speedskaters did not practice in the new Under Armour suits prior to Sochi
The U.S. Speedskating team faces the "very real possibility of going home empty-handed for the first time" since the '84 Sarajevo Games after Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe yesterday "failed to medal in the women’s 1,500 race," according to Michelle Kaufman of the MIAMI HERALD. The "most convenient culprit was the controversial new space-age suits engineered by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics." Skaters "never raced in them before arriving at the Olympics, so when favorites underperformed, they began questioning whether the suits were slowing them down." The skaters "voted Friday night to abandon the new suits and revert to earlier more familiar suits," but "it made no difference." Kaufman: "New suits, old suits, same results." U.S. coach Ryan Shumabukura when asked whether the team should have tested the suits before the Games said, "Hindsight’s 20-20. That’s something we’ll look at" (MIAMI HERALD, 2/17). In L.A., Jared Hopkins wrote when U.S. skaters took the ice Saturday, they "wore racing suits by Under Armour made for their successful World Cup season." Gone were the "Mach 39 suits Under Armour debuted for these Games." The "constant talk surrounding the Mach 39 did not help anyone connected to the team." U.S. speedskater Brian Hansen "despite not medaling" in the 1,500 was "glad the swap of suits had been made." Hansen: "The other skin suit may still be the fastest skin suit in the world. But part of the problem is that we haven't had the chance to race in it and have the results to know it's the fastest skin suit in the world." Dutch speedskater Mark Tuitert said, "It's just plain stupid not to test the suits in a race before the Olympics" (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).

STANDING BEHIND THE PRODUCT: UA indicated that it is "'confident' in its skating suits after reports they're slowing down athletes at the Sochi Games." BLOOMBERG NEWS' Rupp & Townsend reported some have "blamed a design flaw in the suits' rear ventilation panels." UA Senior VP/Innovation Kevin Haley said, "The bottom line here is we're confident in all three of the suits we've provided to the U.S. speedskating team, and we're rooting for our athletes" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 2/14). UA Founder, Chair & CEO Kevin Plank on Friday said, "When you are not performing, you look at everything and it begins with the training, to the gear, to the skates, to the pillows that you slept on the night before. So it is all very fair and this is our business, and I think that we believe that we've got an incredible product that will help our athletes succeed and win." Plank added, "I don't want this to be perceived as anything other than I think everybody is just sort of trying to find out what we can do to help our athletes win. And we've tested it, and on this project in particular, we worked directly with Lockheed Martin and had everything from computational fluid dynamic modeling and wind tunnel testing to get these things built. And we've built, not just one suit, we've built multiple suits for the athletes out there" (Bloomberg TV, 2/14). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Robinson & Germano wrote the uniform swap "puts Under Armour in a tough spot." SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell said that if the team "wins medals in the old suits, 'it will be embarrassing for Under Armour.'" But Haley "contested the notion that changing to the previous suits would harm the company's reputation." Haley said, "They're all Under Armour suits" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/17).

ALL PRESS IS GOOD PRESS? Morningstar analyst Paul Swinand said of the impact of the suit controversy on UA's stock, "I actually think it's a positive because they are the small player. If they weren't being talked about, that would be a big negative." Schaeffer's Investment Research Senior Technical Strategist Ryan Detrick said, "We could argue the suits maybe cost the US some gold medals potentially. But, at the same time, it doesn't mean you don't want to buy [the stock] here" (FINANCE.YAHOO.com, 2/14).
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