Nowhere was the gap between expectation and achievement so wide heading into Sochi as with the U.S. speedskating team. Expected to medal in multiple events, the team failed utterly, marking the first time since 1984 that the U.S. had failed to medal in the sport.
Many observers blamed the team's new suits, delivered just weeks before the Games and manufactured by Under Armour. So it's somewhat of a shock, then, that U.S. Speedskating and Under Armour announced an eight-year extension of their partnership, which had been due to expire this year. Under Armour will continue to outfit the team through at least 2022.
Under Armour's "Mach 39" suits, with their differing design, were blamed for many of the team's ills. But even after the team received permission to drop the suits and use old competition gear, no U.S. speedskater could medal. The final blow came Friday, when both the men's and women's pursuit trios were knocked out of medal contention.
The team remains in disarray, and U.S. Speedskating executive director Ted Morris said in an email to athletes, obtained by the Wall Street Journal, that the renewal came as something of a surprise. "We were not that optimistic, to be honest," he said. "When you look at how things transpired, it's tough to imagine any company saying, 'We want to stick with these guys.' From our standpoint, that was hard to fathom."
"It has always been Under Armour's mission to make all athletes better, and we are proud to make our biggest commitment ever to the US Speedskating team by providing these championship competitors with leading innovations and training resources to help them fulfill their dreams on the world's biggest stages," Under Armour Founder and CEO Kevin Plank said in a prepared statement.
The finger-pointing among speedskaters and associated officials has already begun; training regimens and off-ice distractions also come in for shares of the blame. It will be quite some time before U.S. Speedskating shakes off the stench of this Olympics' performance, but the sponsorship guarantee is no doubt welcome.