Five-Ring Circus

What Are Those Gray Crotch Circles on the Americans’ Speedskating Uniforms?

At the 2013 Short Track World Cup: So many thighs, so little friction.

Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

The Olympics are never just about the athletes’ physical prowess. They’re also an opportunity for tech geeks to try their hand at improving nature. The latest example comes in the form of Team USA’s Under Armour Mach 39 Speedskating Suit, an innovation every bit as flamboyant as the title.

Developed over several years by sporting goods company Under Armour and Lockheed Martin—better known for fighter jets than fancy skatewear—the Mach 39 has already elicited a roundup of breathless reportage (and at least one wry smile). It took more than 100 textiles and 300 hours of wind-tunnel testing to find the perfect combination for speed and convenience. The final design, using five textiles, creates an overall look that can perhaps best be described as “half-dressed Batman on ice.”


Everything has a purpose, including those glaring gray patches on the inner thighs. These are pieces of “ArmourGlide,” a super-slick material that apparently reduces friction by up to 65 percent. This makes sense as an innovation: You will surely skate faster if your thighs aren’t sticking together, and nobody wants the sort of chafing that comes with criss-crossing your legs at high speed. But the odd conspicuousness is enough to make one ask, “Does it come in black?”

Jessica Smith
Jessica Smith after falling in the Olympic short-track heats. Was a lack of thigh friction to blame?

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images


The design can be attributed to Steve Chasezeyka, who told Sports Illustrated he looked to American hot rod culture to create an aesthetic that would “embody raw speed and power.” This is why the skaters have that flamelike stripes on their chests. Other touches—a diagonal zipper, dimpled polyurethane strips, open mesh panels—have a more utilitarian purpose. Even so, as Under Armour’s Kevin Haley explained to the Washington Post, “This is not something that somebody is going to wear down the street or to a cocktail party.”

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics.