Figure skating is typically the sport that gets us talking about what the athletes wear as they compete. Those sparkly and expensive dresses and leotards are an important part of the sport, right? But at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, a different ice sport is going viral for its fashion: speed skating.
Over the weekend Team USA’s speed skaters hit the ice and the topic on the tip of everyone’s tongue was that slightly cringeworthy patch of gray that sits at the inner thigh or, as most people would call it, the crotch.
On Twitter, viewers had many thoughts, and couldn’t help but point on just how weird these looked.
Created by Under Armour (modeled by Joey Manita and Maame Biney, below), it turns out that there’s actually a scientific reason for this design. In other words, highlighting the crotch area with a different color was done intentionally—for science. According to the brand, which has worked with the American speed skating team since 2014, the uniforms underwent “hundreds of hours if wind-tunnel testing.”
“The contrasting material in the inner thigh (friction guards) has been commonplace for speed skate skins for decades, to reduce friction. The 2014 UA skin had one panel instead of two, but in testing the new skin, the addition of a second panel reduced friction even more—by 60 percent,” Under Armour said in a statement to InStyle.
So yes, it turns out these patches have a name (friction guards) and that they help each skater perform better, but couldn’t the patches have been the same color as the rest of the uniform?
“We tested a multitude of friction guard materials to find the material that reduces friction the most. Altering the color or using a material that comes in a different color would have rendered it considerably less effective,” Under Armour told InStyle. “The athletes love the look of the skins and how they perform and are getting compliments from other countries.”
At the 2014 Winter Olympics, Team USA switched from a new version of the brand's designs to an older one halfway through competition in Sochi after the athletes performed below expectations. The team did not earn any medals for the first time in 30 years at those Games.
So far, John-Henry Krueger earned a silver medal in the 1,000-meter race, so followers have high hopes for these new designs.