Under Armour's CEO Kevin Plank.
(Photo: Maxine Park, USA TODAY)
(USATODAY.com) - It's not the suit.
The much-maligned suit worn by the U.S. speedskating team should never have been victimized, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, says in an exclusive interview. "It was a bit of a witch hunt that began to build," he says, in his first extensive interview since the Under Armour suit became a scapegoat for the failure of U.S. speedskaters to win Olympic medals. "The suit became the witch.'
Plank is so certain that the "Mach 39" suit is a winner, he says Under Armour will continue to invest in it and tweak if until the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea. And he's so confident that the suit can help the U.S. Speedskating team, that Under Armour on Friday will announce that it plans to not only renew its team sponsorship, but double its length through 2022.
"We're doubling down," says Plank. "We will not stick our heads in the sand. We want people to know that when we get knocked down, we get back up bigger, better and stronger."
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Few well-meaning Olympic sponsors have undergone the kind of intense media and image scrutiny that Under Armour has over the past week, as the highbrow brand name suddenly got linked to Olympic-sized failure. "This brand was dragged through the mud," he says. "There was a lot of conjecture and speculation, but none of it based on fact."
For Plank, 41, the whole tumult has been a hugely humbling experience, he says, yet he adamantly refuses to point a finger of blame at anyone. "In no way, shape or form will we ever point fingers at the athletes. These guys have a ton of things going through their heads. There was no push back from us. We said, whatever will make the athletes more comfortable, we'll do."
U.S. Speedskating executive director Ted Morris says he's thrilled - and the skaters will be, too. "It's a testament to (Under Armour's) commitment and fire to keep working with us," he says.
But it hasn't been easy. Plank says that the night the suit brouhaha broke, he was up at 4 a.m., unable to sleep "sick to my stomach that the company I love was getting beat up. And I can't do anything about it but bite my lip and hope the facts come out."
After the team voted to switch suits - and fared no better - Plank insists, he did not celebrate or feel vindicated. "We remain patriots first," he says. "As I sat there watching the events on TV and my laptop, I'm wearing red, white and blue and an American flag."