Shani Davis of the US competes in the men's 1000 metres. Photo: Reuters
The US speed skating team are abandoning their Cathy Freeman-style hooded suits, after blaming them for a string of bad results at the Winter Olympics.
But the hood isn't the problem - it's a common feature in speed skating. Instead, the problem is supposedly the air vents on the back.
The IOC has confirmed it received a request from the US team to change the suits, and said on Saturday morning that it would “not be an issue” as long as the new design conformed to rules about the size and placement of sponsors' logos.
The suits were designed by team sponsor Under Armour, and before the Games they were being touted as a secret weapon that would give champion speed skaters such as Shani Davis a competitive advantage in a sport where the difference between first and fourth can be just hundredths of a second.
But Davis, the gold medal favourite who strutted onto the ice for the 1000m like he owned it, left the arena a distant eighth, well behind the dominant Dutch.
Afterwards he said it had been one of his fastest ever starts and there was “no way in hell” he would post such a slow lap after such a start.
However he added: “I would like to think that it's not the suit. I would never blame the suit”.
Insiders told The Wall Street Journal that after the women's team underperformed as well, the US team decided the suits had a design flaw: vents on the back of the suit that were intended to keep the athlete cool were creating drag.
The team apparently did not spot the problem in training, before committing to the new technology in the sport's highest-profile event.
Under Armour said it put the 'Mach 39' suit through 300 hours of wind-tunnel testing, and consulted aircraft engineers on the most aerodynamic form.
The key to the Mach 39's speed is supposed to be in its combination of five different fabrics, and extensive testing of the positioning of seams and zips.
The air vent along the spine was originally touted as one of its key features.
"For the remainder of the Winter Olympic Games, team USA speed skaters will be wearing the previously approved Under Armour skinsuits used during recent world cup competition," US Speedskating president Mike Plant said in a statement on Saturday.
USA speed skating coach Kip Carpenter said he did not expect a dramatic improvement in the team's performances, however.
"A skater does not lose a second (on the 1000m) because of a skinsuit," he said after training on Friday.
"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."
The team wore the suits in simulated race conditions after receiving them in early January.
On Friday the team submitted a request to switch back to the suits it wore in the World Cup.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the request was going through a “process of approval”, but if it complied with rules about the placement and size of brands, “we don't have any issue”.
However the switch failed to get Davis onto the medal podium, with the world record holder coming a disappointing 11th in the 1500m on Saturday afternoon, almost a second slower than the winner.
Zbigniew Brokda, of Poland, beat Dutch Koen Verweij for the gold by just three thousandths of a second.