What's with the asymmetrical right inner thigh patch on the speed skating uniforms?
February 21, 2010 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Why do many of the olympic speed skating uniforms feature an asymmetrical right inner thigh patch?

Visible on the US and Korean uniforms here, for example. I would hazard a guess that it has something to do with "always turning left", but what, exactly?
posted by IvyMike to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total)
it's to reduce chafing as the legs cross over each other in a turn.
posted by randomstriker at 10:04 PM on February 21, 2010

From this older article, the patch is made of "microscopic glass beads to reduce friction between moving parts."
posted by BlooPen at 10:10 PM on February 21, 2010

My impression is that it's kevlar to prevent bleed-out deaths from skate-blade cuts and punctures.
posted by szweib at 10:18 PM on February 21, 2010

szweib, if it were to prevent cuts, it would be on both legs and it would be higher up near the crotch where the femoral artery is most vulnerable. And I find it unlikely that any speed skater would want to wear something that felt like a diaper just to guard against the infinitesimal chance of being cut.
posted by randomstriker at 11:07 PM on February 21, 2010

The entire suit in short-track is meant to be as cut-resistant as possible. The thigh patches are to reduce friction: you'll see a more elaborate version in the "plastic-wrap-groined" suits worn by Canadian long-track skaters.
posted by holgate at 11:29 PM on February 21, 2010

Here's my guess (under the assumption that the thigh patch is a low friction material):

When the skaters aren't turning, their thighs (pretty much) don't touch. When they're turning, it looks (to me) like the left thigh is nearly stationary compared to the right thigh. The right inner thigh (where the patch is) seems to come into contact with a lot of the left thigh -- even the front. So there could be a large patch on the left thigh, or a small patch on the right thigh. The small inner thigh patch makes more sense since the material isn't super aerodynamic, I imagine, especially if it were on the front of the left thigh. Also, the thigh patches don't appear stretchy, so a small patch is better for maintaining the overall stretchiness and tightness of the suit.

Here's an analogy: say I'm dragging my fingertip along a table. If I want to reduce friction, it seems more parsimonious to have a low friction thimble on my finger than to have a low friction strip on the table. (So finger tip = right inner thigh; table = left thigh.)
posted by sentient at 11:42 PM on February 21, 2010

A semi-educated guess: The front of your thigh is usually tougher skin than the back/inside (coarser hair, thicker skin, and just plain tougher). Turning left means right leg in front, back/inside (sensitive part) of right thigh rubbing on front (less sensitive part) of left thigh. They probably ditched the left thigh pad as being unnecessarily restrictive, rather than keeping it for decorative/symmetry purposes.
posted by anaelith at 11:58 PM on February 21, 2010

I was wondering the same thing when watching the Olympics tonight. I don't have an answer, but I do have a question about the "friction" theory: if the patch is there to prevent friction between the legs, why isn't there a matching patch on the other leg? And if the answer is that only one patch is necessary to reduce fiction, why do all the teams' uniforms have the patch on the outer leg? (And why is it white?)
posted by The Tensor at 1:25 AM on February 22, 2010

OK ... Former short track speed skater here. (but my suits never had this).

It is to reduce friction and chafing. Friction from where the legs cross over for each corner, chafing cause there probably would otherwise be a seam here, which would chafe with each cross over.

It probably makes a small comfort difference if you spend 8 hours a day skating in very fast 110M circles

Why only one patch? Probably it is all that is necessary to achieve the desired results.
posted by jannw at 3:16 AM on February 22, 2010

jannw: how do these speed skaters train? What's a "typical" workout?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:13 AM on February 22, 2010

well ... I wasn't Olympic level, obviously, but ... my friends who were ... spent a lot of time in the gym, and a lot of time on the ice, doing very small 110M circles ... and they raced, a lot. Short track is as much about tactics as about speed (my grandfather, also a speed skater, used to call it "mickey mouse" speed skating ... 'cause it wasn't about your time, but about your place in the race ... unlike long track speed skating). They worked legs, core and balance in the gym, and going fast on the ice. Also interesting was that short track was one of the few speed skating events where short guys (less than 6 foot) could do well (on short distances, anyways) as it was about tactics as well as speed (and a bunch of other stuff which meant short, buff guys could do well on short distances).

I am not sure if it is still true ... but you used to see a country advantage on short track if you came from a country without natural long track ice rinks ... the logic being that speed skaters from "winter countries" would gravitate to long track ... but the rest of us would only have the option of short track (which conveniently fit inside a hockey rink) ... thus "natural winter countries" wouldn't field their best skaters in short track ... as they would compete in long track.

But ... my experience is now many years old. Also interesting is that the skates are very different ... long track skaters have clapping skates ... but short track skaters have radius'd skates and offset blades (to enhance their speed in tight corners) ... all up they are VERY DIFFERENT sports.
posted by jannw at 7:03 AM on February 22, 2010

ohh ... and the patch is white as it is leather ... same logic as jodpurs for horse riders ... it reduces friction and seam chafe.
posted by jannw at 7:19 AM on February 22, 2010

ohh ... last point ... short track skate blades were radius's in 2 dimensions .... curved on their length, and bent along their length as well ... 'cause most of their speed was gained on the exit of their corners.
posted by jannw at 7:37 AM on February 22, 2010

Okay, fully answered by jannw, but I'll just add that the former Olympic long-track speed skater randomly crashing in my apartment for a few weeks confirms: "anti-friction."
posted by Hadroed at 7:12 PM on February 22, 2010

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