The Art of Design: Under Armour Suits and the Sochi Games
Sports can lead to huge marketing opportunities for apparel companies. And what better platform to get your name affiliated with a world-class athlete than the Olympics? Apparel sponsor Under Armour had the same idea when it set out to outfit the U.S. speedskating team in the "Mach 39," a high-tech aerodynamic racing suit. Unfortunately, Under Armour won't be taking home the gold in Sochi—much like Shani Davis and Brittany Bowe.
The "Mach 39" poses several problems. Initially billed as a competitive advantage, the suit features a vent on the backside, designed to allow heat to escape. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, this same vent also allows air to enter and "create drag that keeps skaters from staying in the low position they need to achieve maximum speed." In other words, the team members were fighting their own suit to maintain proper form.
The article went on to say that several skaters sent their suits to an Under Armour seamstress on Thursday to have the panel modified with an extra piece of rubber.
The glaring gray patches on the inner thighs of the suit present another issue, albeit from an aesthetic viewpoint. What exactly are these weird "crotch circles"? The patches boast a super-slick material said to reduce friction by up to 65 percent. Makes sense, but as Slate writer Lance Richardson pointed out, maybe black patches would've been the better choice (for obvious reasons).
As I was writing this post, I stumbled across a statement released by U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackman to USA Today. Apparently, Under Armour has been absolved from the athletes' subpar performance. "Given our history of strong performances in speedskating, we are disappointed not to have had a podium finish to date in Sochi," Blackman commented. "After the Games, we will work side by side with US Speedskating to understand how we might better support our athletes ... we do not believe the suits were the problem."
So, what do you think—is it too little, too late for Under Armour? Once the thought is out there, it's nearly impossible to undo any damage. My question to you is this: How would you handle a situation that brought your reputation and design skills under attack?