U.S. Speedskating finds edge with high-tech engineered skins
The hotrod Americana-styled pinstriping on the new U.S. Speedskating "skin" isn't just for artistic flamboyance; it reduces drag on the skater, as engineered by Under Armour in conjunction with Lockheed Martin.
"By partnering with Lockheed Martin we brought in an organization with 60,000 engineers," Kevin Haley, Under Armour's senior vice president of innovation told SI.com. "Although we don't need all 60,000, they have the right experts to do modeling and fluid dynamics off motion-capture filming. There is a level of expertise and brain power that has never been dedicated to a uniform before."
And the results proved highly technical in the Under Armour Mach 39 Speedskating Skin, the first speed skating uniform from the Baltimore-based company.
Redesigning the skin focused solely on full-body aerodynamics. Using Lockheed Martin's expertise during a two-year research and testing program, engineers employed high-speed cameras to help create computational fluid dynamic models that analyzed how air flowed around the skater during key body positions.
Coupled with over 300 hours of wind-tunnel testing on reinforced fiberglass mannequins with hundreds of different skins setups and textile configurations, the research allowed designers to zero in -- down to the millimeter, actually -- on exactly how and where to build the new suit.
"We were hoping for a technological improvement that would be measurable and nobody thought we'd be able to show measurable improvement over 1,000 meters," Haley said. "It appears that is what we've achieved."
With an pinstriped artistic visual designed by Steve Chasezeyka to "embody raw speed and power" found in America's hotrod culture, you'll actually see five different textiles over the course of the skin. The silver textile on the inner thigh reduces friction by 65 percent. The other four textiles spread across different parts of the body all have elements designed to achieve different results, Haley said. Engineered polyurethane shapes were placed in "critical areas" of the skin to disrupt airflow. A stretch zipper bypassing the throat and circumventing the body, extra breathability on the spine and moisture-wicking technologies round out the Mach 39.
"Speed skating, we think, will be faster than anything that has ever come before," Haley said. "What is surprising to people is that by putting that much horsepower in we were able to improve on something there wasn't much improvement left to gain."