Olympics / Sports

Lockheed engineers worked on racing suit at center of Olympic controversy

FORT WORTH, Texas -- A high-tech speedskating suit developed by Under Armour with help from engineers at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth became the talk of the Winter Olympics on Friday.

But not because of a gold medal performance.

Rather, Under Armour was put on the defensive after The Wall Street Journal reported that some were blaming its Mach 39 racing suit for the disappointing performance of highly rated U.S. skaters Shani Davis and Heather Richardson.

According to the article, which cited three people familiar with the U.S. team, a vent on the back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, was creating a drag on the racers. Concerns were raised after neither Davis nor Richardson finished higher than 7th in the 1,000-meter races.

During an interview with Bloomberg Television, Under Armour's CEO Kevin Plank called the issue "a head scratcher" and said the athletic gear maker was assessing the product with the U.S. Speed Skating team.

"We have a full team on the ground in Sochi right now making modifications and adjustments," Plank said.

Plank said Under Armour worked with Lockheed Martin on the Mach 39 project, and used "everything from computational fluid dynamic modeling and wind-tunnel testing to get this built."

Ken Ross, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, said that aerospace engineers from Fort Worth were involved in the project but said they would not be made available for interviews.

"Lockheed Martin worked with Under Armour's team to create a computational fluid dynamics model to analyze how air flows around the skater," Lockheed said in a statement. "The work included small-scale wind tunnel testing in Lockheed Martin's facilities of different skin materials and development of drag reduction concepts for prototype skins, following by drag testing of specific racing poses at the Glenn L. Martin Wind Tunnel at the University of Maryland.

"This was a unique collaboration," the company said. "We're proud to support the US speed skating team and look forward to seeing them on the medal stand in Sochi."

Like Baltimore-based Under Armour, Lockheed Martin's headquarters is located in Maryland, near Washington, D.C., in Bethesda.

Kip Carpenter, the U.S. skating coach, told Bloomberg News that he's not blaming Under Armour for his team's performance.

"A skater doesn't lose a second in the 1,000-meter race "because of a skin suit," Carpenter told reporters. "Anyone who thinks that, does not know speed skating. In my opinion, the Dutch are just sitting deeper and pushing harder. They are just skating better than us."

Still, Under Armour stock took a hit on Friday, dropping $2.68 a share, or 2.5 percent, to $105.94 by mid-afternoon.

(c)2014 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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