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26 Feb 2018 14:12
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  •   Home > News > International

    Winter Olympics: Team GB under scrutiny over skeleton hi-tech suits as women dominate practice times

    Team Great Britain's female skeleton riders produce dominant times in the Pyeongchang practice runs, but all it does is lead to questions from their competitors over their hi-tech suits.


    Team Great Britain's female skeleton riders have produced some searing practice times in the skeleton event at the Winter Olympics, leading to their main competitors questioning the legality of their hi-tech suits.

    Laura Deas (world number seven) and Lizzy Yarnold (2010 Olympic gold medallist but finished ninth in the World Cup series) topped two and one of the six practice heats respectively, with regular showings for both in the top three in each run.

    But it has led to questions from other countries over what exactly could be behind these ominous practice results, with many fixing their gaze squarely on Team GB's sleek suits.

    The skin-tight suits worn by Deas, Yarnold and Britain's male riders — set to begin their competitive heats — are drag-resistant, with ridges built in to the fabric to reduce wind resistance.

    In an event in which sled riders hurl themselves on a piece of metal down an icy chute, head first, at speeds of over 130kph, every lick of wind resistance you can reduce counts in a big way.

    Now competitors are asking big questions, with star American medal hope Katie Uhlaender — double world champion in 2012 — saying many athletes and coaches were questioning the legality of the suits.

    "The rules state that everyone is supposed to have access to the same equipment as far as helmets and speed suits go, and not have any aerodynamic attachments on the helmet or in the suit," she said.

    "I think it's right to ask the question and make sure everyone is on a fair playing field. I was trying to get a suit of the same quality and I was told it was illegal.

    "This is like [Team GB's 2010 gold medallist Amy Williams'] helmet in 2010 and, in my opinion, that helmet was illegal."

    Amy Williams faced similar scrutiny during her gold-medal run in the Vancouver Games when Canada and USA's teams protested over the aerodynamics of her helmet, but both complaints were rejected.

    Rule 10.16.3 of skeleton's international laws states that "no elements whatsoever may be attached either outside or under the race suit".

    The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) has had to step in to defend Britain's suits amid the chorus of complaints, saying it checked Team GB's race suits and found there were no rule violations.

    UK Sport, which manages investment into Britain's Olympic sports and athletes, funded skeleton to the tune of 6.5 million pounds ($11.5 million), nearly double that of its investment around the time of the Sochi Winter Games.

    Some of that money funds innovation, but British Bobsleigh and Skeleton insists its investment in its equipment is similar to that of competing nations.

    Last month, before the questionable attire was revealed, Yarnold intimated the suits could make the difference for Team GB.

    "That innovation on the equipment side is where we can make massive gains," Yarnold said.

    Is it all just mind games?

    Speaking to the BBC, USA Bobsled and Skeleton chief executive Darrin Steele said the ruckus had been timed perfectly for Team GB's benefit.

    "The rules are clear that there can't be any aerodynamic elements attached to the suit, and we don't expect to see any on the British speedsuits in the race," Steele said.

    "Athletes from various nations are talking about the British suits instead of focusing on the upcoming races. A large part of this sport is mental strength. It's about who can throw down despite distractions, and we'll see who comes out on top over these next few days.

    "The timing … was perfect and a smart strategic move by the British team."

    Despite the howls of derision, a British win in skeleton would not be entirely unprecedented, particularly by Yarnold.

    Yarnold firms as the defending Olympic champion after victory in Sochi four years ago.

    That gold medal in 2014 also ensured that Great Britain had won a medal in women's skeleton in every Olympics since the event's introduction in 2002.

    "It will be a tough competition," Yarnold said.

    "But those who will prevail will be those who will be tough enough to deal with the four-run race, tough enough to deal with the Olympics and I would count myself as one of those."

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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