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U.S. Speedskating, Under Armour OK deal through 2022 Olympics

By Patrick Johnston and Susan Heavey

SOCHI, Russia/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US Speedskating is renewing its partnership with Under Armour Inc through the 2022 Olympics despite recent criticism of the team's suits at the Sochi Games, the company's chief executive said on Friday.

"We doubled down with a new eight-year partnership," Kevin Plank told the CBS "This Morning" show.

The U.S. speed skating team ditched the maligned Mach 39 Under Armour suits after failing to win any medals in the first six skating events at the Winter Games. But the athletes' switch to an older model suit by the Baltimore-based sports apparel company also failed to reverse their fortunes.

A representative for US Speedskating confirmed the agreement with the company in a statement, calling it "the brand's largest and most comprehensive commitment to the sport."

The deal was announced as the U.S. speed skating team's hopes for a medal died after both the men's and women's teams failed to advance. The team will leave the Winter Olympics without a medal for the first time since 1984.

Still, the announcement was good news for Under Armour and its founder Plank, who is fighting to maintain his brand's reputation.

Shares of Under Armour rose nearly 5.7 percent to $112.85 on Friday, surpassing its year high of $110 at the start of the Sochi Games on February 7.

Plank, who has defended the suits, said the deal came as the current partnership was set to expire. It runs through December 31, 2022, the company said in a statement.

"Look, we got beat up a little bit last week and speed skating is obviously getting beaten up. So what we don't do is we don't retreat. We dust ourselves up and we come back bigger, better and stronger than we ever were before," he told CBS.

"America will be OK, speed skating will be OK. And Under Armour will be OK also."

The U.S. speed skating team's disappointing performance at the Games, coupled with a dominant display by the Dutch, has allowed the Europeans to surpass the Americans' record gold medal total.

The Dutch have 33 gold medals in the sport, surpassing the United States' 29.

BEHIND THE LOSSES

Critics have speculated about reasons for the poor American performance, including the athletes' training and team disarray. Some skaters have also pointed the finger at US Speedskating leadership.

Plank, in a separate interview with CNBC, cited the athletes' mentality, saying criticism of the suit had a negative impact on their confidence.

"Once you have an athlete believing that they can't win, they are never going to win," he said.

He said he understood coaches' decision to switch from the newer suits, which Lockheed Martin Corp helped design and was marketed as the fastest in the sport.

"There's only so many things you can do in the middle of competition. You can't train more, you can't change altitudes -- and so what you can do is make a switch," he told CBS.

"Unfortunately it hasn't translated into success yet."

U.S. speed skaters, stinging from their losses, said they appreciated Under Armour's pledge to stand by the team. US Speedskating thanked the company on its Instagram social media account.

"Clearly, they can put a lot of time and energy and money into a lot of other things but they are choosing speed skating," said two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis, who was part of the American trio in the first round of the men's team pursuit after they fell to Canada.

"It's good under the circumstances that Under Armour still believes in us as a team and wants to work with us," Davis added.

Neither Under Armour nor US Speedskating provided financial details about the deal, which was reported earlier by USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

"We're going to put a new plan in place, and we're going to come back in four years and in eight years, and America will hopefully be on the podium where it rightfully belongs," Plank told CNBC.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish and Amanda Kwan)

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