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olympics notebook

New US speedskating suits might be a bust

The technologically advanced US speedskating suits have not helped Heather Richardson and teammates.

david j. phillip/associated press

The technologically advanced US speedskating suits have not helped Heather Richardson and teammates.

They were touted as the fastest speedskating suits in the world.

Looks like they might be slowing the Americans down.

Continue reading below

The new high-tech skinsuits, developed with help from a prominent defense contractor and unveiled just before the Sochi Olympics, were a major topic of debate at Adler Arena during Friday’s break in the competition.

Through the first six events, no US skater finished higher than seventh — a stunning downfall given the team’s strong results on the World Cup circuit this season. Among those who have faltered: two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis and female stars Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe.

Heading into the men’s 1,500 meters on Saturday, Davis and the Americans are scrambling to turn things around before this becomes a total bust of a Winter Games.

‘‘Morale is down right now,’’ said Joey Mantia, another of the US skaters in the 1,500. ‘‘We need to pick that up in the coming races.’’

Much of the focus was on the secretive Under Armour suit, which was supposed to give the Americans a big technological edge. After all, aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin was involved in the design of the ‘‘Mach 39.’’

‘‘There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is the most scientific suit in the whole world,’’ said US skater Patrick Meek. ‘‘These guys make F-16 fighter jets. If they can invade Afghanistan and Iraq, they can build a speedskating suit.’’

Quick to start

Jonathan Quick has played high-tension postseason games in several of the NHL’s most intimidating arenas over the last few seasons, and he came out holding the Stanley Cup above his head in 2012.

That’s why United States coach Dan Bylsma is confident his goalie can handle a whole different level of pressure when the Americans take on the home team in Sochi.

Quick will make his second start of the Olympics when the US men’s hockey team faces Russia on Saturday in the biggest game of the tournament’s first week.

Quick made 22 saves in the Americans’ 7-1 victory over Slovakia on Thursday to win his Olympic debut. Bylsma chose him over Olympic veteran Ryan Miller to face the powerful Russian offense at Bolshoy Ice Dome, which will be packed with screaming fans for the revival of a classic hockey rivalry.

Vieira in for Costas

NBC turned to Meredith Vieira on Friday and probably at least one other day to substitute for Bob Costas, who continues to be held off the network’s prime-time Olympics broadcast because of an eye infection.

Costas is feeling better but his participation is a day-to-day decision, said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC’s Olympics competition, on Friday. If Costas’s illness lingers into next week, the network will consider shutting him down for the rest of the Games, he said. Matt Lauer subbed for Costas for three nights starting Tuesday.

For someone with an infection in both eyes and sensitive to light, a TV studio is a lousy place to be, Bell said.

‘‘He’s frustrated, of course, to have this happen but appreciative of the support he’s been getting both internally and externally,’’ he said. ‘‘His spirits, relatively speaking and all things considered, are pretty good.’’

Plushenko criticized

Four days after being praised as a hero for helping Russia win its first gold at the Sochi Olympics, Evgeni Plushenko was taking criticism for dropping out of the men’s figure skating.

Plushenko had just one big backer Friday: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Plushenko’s strong performance in the team event brought wide accolades for his determination to overcome injury. But on Thursday, he withdrew before the men’s short program, complaining of severe spinal pain during the warmup.

Plushenko was Russia’s only men singles skater in Sochi. He won the slot in a closed exhibition skate that cut out Maxim Kovtun, who beat him in the Russian nationals.

Among his critics was longtime rival Alexei Yagudin, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist. He told the R-Sport news agency he supports ‘‘people who go to the end.’’

‘‘I think Zhenya will understand my words,’’ he said, using the familiar version of Plushenko’s name. ‘‘We always competed through the pain.’’

The choice of Plushenko as the sole Russian man was debatable. Although he was the dominant skater the past 15 years, with an Olympic gold and two silvers before coming to Sochi, he is 31 years old and underwent back surgery a year ago. When he was selected, advocates argued his long international experience made him a stronger choice than the 18-year-old Kovtun.

But that came under sharp questioning Friday.

‘‘You should go when it’s time,’’ Ruslan Nugmatullin, a former Russian national soccer goalkeeper said on Twitter. ‘‘Kovtun earned the right to participate in Sochi 2014.’’

Alexei Urmanov, the 1994 Olympic gold-medal winner, suggested that Plushenko’s hubris backfired.

‘‘It’s on the conscience of Zhenya, the team and the federation,’’ he was quoted by R-Sport.

Million mark

Organizers say the Sochi Games have surpassed the milestone of 1 million tickets sold. Olympic officials made the announcement Friday, one day after the Russian men’s hockey team made its Sochi debut and helped push the number over the top. A Sochi record 106,000 fans packed into Olympic Park on Thursday, many coming to watch Russia beat Slovenia, 5-2, in hockey . . . Alpine skier Felix Neureuther of Germany, one of the medal favorites, suffered whiplash in a car crash and has been forced to delay his departure for the Sochi Olympics by a day. ‘‘Thank God, it wasn’t that bad, I feel well under the circumstances,’’ Neureuther told reporters in Munich. ‘‘I should be able to race. I am flying to Sochi on Saturday.’’

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