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Suit swap makes no difference for U.S. speedskaters

Shani Davis U.S. takes breather after competing men's 1500-meter speedskating race Adler ArenSkating Center during 2014 Winter Olympics Sochi RussiSaturday

Shani Davis of the U.S. takes a breather after competing in the men's 1,500-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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Updated: March 17, 2014 11:59AM

When U.S. Speedskating hooked up with Under Armour to develop a new high-tech skinsuit that would revolutionize the sport at the Winter Olympics, the vision was gold, silver and bronze. The result was a total debacle.

Right in the middle of the Sochi Games, the American skaters hastily switched back to the suits they wore during the World Cup season and at the country’s Olympic trials in late December.

Not that it mattered.

Saturday was another bust for the U.S. at the speedskating oval. Brian Hansen of Glenview finished seventh in the 1,500 meters — matching the team’s best showing through seven events in Russia — and two-time silver medalist Shani Davis of Chicago faded to 11th in what might have been the final individual race of an otherwise brilliant Olympic career. In one of the closest races in Olympic speedskating history, Zbigniew Brodka captured Poland’s first gold medal in Olympic speedskating by a mere three-thousandths of a second over Koen Verweij of the Netherlands.

“Maybe we would see different results if we could turn back the hands of time,” Davis said, “but we can’t.”

How did it come to this?

The embarrassment of Suitgate can be traced to a process filled with a quest for secrecy but marred by questionable decisions, all of which came back to bite the U.S. program on the sport’s ­biggest stage.

Kevin Haley, senior vice president of innovation for Under Armour, laid out a timeline that began in 2011 with the development of a new suit that was supposed to give the Americans a decided technological edge. The company worked with Lockheed Martin to handle some of the testing. The aerospace and defense giant analyzed the suits using a CGI-like procedure in which sensors are attached to the body, producing what Haley called “an unbelievable amount of data.”

According to Haley, Under Armour’s deal with U.S. Speedskating called for three suits to be delivered to each Olympic skater on Jan. 1, which is where things started to go wrong.

Secrecy seemed to be the primary concern, the U.S. fretting that other countries would swipe their technology if the suit came out too soon. The final version was completed about six weeks before the Opening Ceremony, which meant no one had a chance to compete in it before they arrived in Sochi. ­Davis called that a huge mistake.

“The best thing would have been to make sure that these suits were what the people said they were,” he said, “so that we can actually know going into the races instead of finding out in one of the biggest races of our lives.”

After his finish in the 1,500, Davis lamented, “We have no medals, man. We have none. And the way things are looking, we might not get any. It’s sad, because we’ve had a lot of potential, a lot of talent.”


Antoine picks up a bronze

Matt Antoine of Prairie du Chien, Wis., took the bronze medal in the men’s skeleton, the first medal in the discipline for an American man since Jimmy Shea’s gold in 2002. John Daly of Smithtown, N.Y., entered the final run in fourth, but had his sled jump from the grooves in the starting ramp and dropped to 15th.

Accelerating down his home track lined from top to bottom with flag-waving, chanting countrymen, Alexander Tretiakov of Russia won the gold. Tretiakov, nicknamed the “Russian Rocket,” completed four trips down the Sanki Sliding Center track in 3 minutes, 44.29 seconds, beating Latvia’s Martins Dukurs (3:45.10).


Fenninger golden in super-G

Anna Fenninger became the third consecutive Austrian woman to capture the Olympic super-G, finding a smooth way through a tricky and uneven course.

Fenninger, 24, finished in 1 minute, 25.52 seconds, edging Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany by 0.55 seconds. Julia Mancuso of the United States was eighth.

◆ Russian skicross racer Maria Komissarova underwent a 61/2-hour operation on her fractured spine following a training accident. She fractured the 12th dorsal vertebrae in her lower-middle back and was taken to a hospital near the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park for emergency surgery.

Sun-Times wires

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