PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — There are cheating concerns at these Pyeongchang Olympics, although they do not revolve around what sliders are ingesting.
It’s about what they’re wearing.
Some skeleton racers are expressing concerns that the speedsuits to be worn by British sliders are illegal, after articles written about the team in recent days suggested that certain “innovations” are likely to greatly enhance chances of medaling in Pyeongchang. Britain has won gold medals in each of the last two women’s skeleton Olympic races, and what the team wore in 2010 and 2014 was highly scrutinized by athletes from several nations — including the U.S.
For their part, the British say the suits are legal.
“I’m not a scientist,” U.S. skeleton veteran Katie Uhlaender said. “I just know that I was trying to get a suit of the same quality and I was told that it was illegal.”
Amy Williams’ win for Britain at the Vancouver Games in 2010 was protested by Canadian and American officials, both of whom were convinced that her helmet did not conform to aerodynamic standards. The sting from that carried over to 2014, especially with the Americans still seething that a British-led protest prompted the disqualification of Noelle Pikus-Pace from a World Cup win that season over having tape on one of her sled handles.
And now, here they go again with more drama, which always pops up in sliding sports at Olympic time.
“I don’t know what they have really for suits,” said Germany’s Jacqueline Loelling, a gold-medal favorite. “But I think every athlete has a secret.”
The British have been flying in training runs, though that doesn’t always carry over to race day. But if their mission was to get in the heads of competitors with these suits, modeled largely after the ones used by the very successful British track cycling program, it worked.
“Athletes from various nations are talking about the British suits instead of focusing on the upcoming races,” USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele said. “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 of the article was perfect and a smart strategic move by the British team.”
There are very specific rules about speedsuits and sleds, including mandates that no aerodynamic elements whatsoever can be added to or worn inside the suit.
“We don’t expect to see any on the British speedsuits,” Steele said.
It’s not like a British win would be wildly unexpected. Lizzy Yarnold is the reigning Olympic champion, and even though this wasn’t her best World Cup season, few would doubt that she’s still capable of a big showing in Pyeongchang.
“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.”
The Americans, like the British and many others, will have new suits for these races.
U.S. Olympic skeleton rookie Kendall Wesenberg said the Americans don’t have any special tricks in their suits, noting that they’re “behind on the secret game.” She’s more concerned about navigating the tricky turns of Pyeongchang, and not if any rivals have souped-up uniforms.
“People are going to try different stuff and the rule book has some gray area,” Wesenberg said. “This is the time that people are going to try to exploit that. I feel pretty impartial about it. It’s gray area. It’s wherever you draw that line, unfortunately.”