This sort of matter-of-factness about junk science was echoed in Norway.
“It’s been proven that blue is faster than other colors,” said Dai Dai Ntab, a sprint specialist for the Netherlands. “Every Olympic season, everybody is trying to find the hidden gem. This year it’s the blue suits.”
Ntab seemed at least half-serious as he continued: “At the end of the day, winning is the biggest goal, so if it’s faster to skate in the blue, I think Holland should consider changing.”
Some in the sport wondered if the Norwegians were playing mind games with their competitors. In speedskating, posturing is as common as actual technological progress.
“I look at that as the oldest trick in the book,” Mike Crowe, the coach of the Canadian team, said about the color switch and ensuing intrigue. “It’s just gamesmanship, really. Make them doubt. Make them wonder.”
In a fireside interview at the rink, Havard Myklebust, the sports scientist leading Norway’s secret suit development effort, seemed amused at the attention the uniforms had garnered over the past few weeks. He hinted that overeager Norwegian journalists might have played a role in the proliferation of this new color theory.
And still, he seemed content to let the speculation simmer. He demurred when asked whether his team’s research had shown color alone could affect the aerodynamics of a material. He stuck to tantalizing generalities.
“What I’ve said is, our new blue suit is faster than our old red suit,” he said with a tight smile, “and I stand by that.”
Skaters, for the sake of their sanity, seemed disinclined to pay too much attention to the subtleties of a suit. Still, they acknowledged that confidence, in oneself and one’s gear, is crucial. Feeling fast can help you go fast.
The psychology of a suit, then, can be just as important as its physics.
Stephen Westland, a professor of color science at the University of Leeds in England, said that despite the implausibility of a link between color and suit physics, a large body of research showed that color could affect performance from a purely psychological standpoint.
“Sporting participants wearing some colors may feel more confident or powerful,” Westland said. “And opponents may infer qualities about their opponents that depend upon which colors they are wearing.”
The Olympics in South Korea will be the first time Norway’s speedskaters will wear proprietary uniforms rather than suits from a mass producer. Myklebust said the overall goal of his two-year project, nicknamed Top Speed, was to engineer a suit that could subtract eight one-hundredths of a second per lap.
It may be too early to tell whether the Norwegians achieved that goal — or whether their new blue uniforms have made them faster. But for what it’s worth, a Norwegian skater, Havard Holmefjord Lorentzen, was leading the men’s overall World Cup standings last week.
“We just decided we needed to take a bit more responsibility for our racing suits than just buying them from a supplier somewhere,” said Jeremy Wotherspoon, the sprint coach for the Norwegian team.
That seemed fair enough, but there were more pressing questions: What about the color?
Wotherspoon smiled, unfolded his arms and pointed to the hat he was wearing, which bore the logo of a Norwegian seafood company that sponsors the team. It was a familiar shade of blue.
“That could have something to do with it,” he said.