Adidas and Nike roll out dozens of new specialty designs for the Olympics. »
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Engineers have been burning the midnight oil designing vast infrastructure,
security and crowd control for Beijing's Olympic
Games. Not to mention a better table-tennis shoe.
a converted U.S. Army base in rural Herzogenaurach, Germany, six designers at
Adidas have spent the past several years
tinkering with specialized footwear for badminton, fencing and two dozen other
sports ahead of the games. Among the
challenges: Rowers must not sink with their boat, wrestlers shouldn't be able to
untie shoelaces and -- perhaps most
important -- nobody's feet should sweat too much.
On the other side of the world in leafy Beaverton, Ore., a similar process has
played out at the campus of Nike, where
buildings are named for Olympians such as Steve Prefontaine. The Adidas
archrival has rolled out specialty shoes for all 28
official Olympic sports this year. That's up from the 11 it designed at the 2004
Athens Games and one-ups Adidas, which is
supplying 27 specialty shoes after steering clear of an equestrian model.
a serious business. Since China is the companies' most important growth market
-- more than a billion pairs of feet --
they're in a neck-and-neck race for dominance. Both want to showcase their
footwear technology during the Olympics and
generate brand buzz -- even if they don't end up selling many archery or
Each company prides itself on its history of inventiveness: Adidas founder Adi
Dassler began designing shoes in his family's
laundry room after World War I, while Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman forged his
initial sole designs in his wife's waffle
The Games's official sportswear sponsor, Adidas, likes to point to its longer
track record, having outfitted Olympians in
Amsterdam in 1928 and, later, sprinter Jesse Owens and boxer Muhammad Ali.
At left, Dick Fosbury wins gold at the 1968 Olympics; his shoe (bottom right)
and the Adidas redesign (top right).
the boldest experiments don't always pan out. After the 1968 games, for example,
Adidas invited U.S. high jumper Dick
Fosbury to Herzogenaurach. He'd won gold in Mexico City with his revolutionary "Fosbury
flop," turning the straddle technique
on its head by going over the bar head and shoulders first. Adidas designed a
new shoe with him in mind. "They didn't work. I
tossed them," said Mr. Fosbury, now 61 years old and himself an engineer. He
found the prototype too slippery and dubbed it
the "Cyclops" because it replaced several spikes in the ball of the shoe with a
single one. Mr. Fosbury says he appreciated
the effort and still wears only Adidas running shoes: "I'm a loyal guy," he
Nike is using the Beijing Olympics as a springboard to help it gain a larger
share of the Chinese market. MarketWatch's
Andrea Cheng reports.
Adidas expects to outfit more than 3,000 of the estimated 10,500 athletes.
Consumers will be able to try on some of the
Olympic specialty shoes at Adidas stores, and all of them will be on sale at
Adidas's online site and catalog site
eastbay.com. Nike says it's supplying "thousands" of athletes (like Adidas, free
of charge). Nike isn't planning the same
broad Olympics shoe campaign, but says many of its shoes will be available on
Nike.com, as well as some retailers, later this
month. The company is already selling its redesigned basketball and running
shoes in China.
As for smaller shoe companies, Japan's Mizuno and Asics, Germany's Puma and
Adidas's Reebok unit are outfitting athletes and
touting Olympic credentials, too, from volleyball to track and field.
Tackling a Martial Art
Change comes slowly for the age-old Chinese martial art of wushu. But this year,
it's joining forces with the swoosh.
an unlikely move for a U.S. footwear company, Nike is joining the small Chinese
market of wushu shoemakers. The modern
version of the sport, a close cousin of kung fu, emphasizes aesthetic and
athletic performance over basic fighting. While it
isn't an official Olympic sport, an Olympic-sanctioned tournament will take
place this summer.
That was enough for Nike to jump in. The shoes would have to survive a host of
punishing moves: rapid accelerations and
braking; 720-degree gymnastic-like spins; and the use of weapons including
broadswords, staffs and double-edged swords..
In a Beijing park, a four-person Nike team sought out septuagenarian Master Wu
Bin, who was teaching hundreds of students,
for his help. He agreed, and work eventually shifted to Nike's Beaverton, Ore.,
campus, where researchers slapped scores of
reflective markers onto U.S. wushu athletes and their weapons while 16
high-speed video cameras recorded data. "Reflective
markers were flying," said Jeff Pisciotta, who studies athlete biomechanics in
the Nike lab. Researchers from the University
of Beijing and the University of Shanghai eventually pitched in.
The final shoe, to be sold for $80 at Nike.com, uses sturdy kangaroo leather
instead of the typical canvas and a lightweight
gum rubber for more-precise pivoting during moves. An unexpected problem:
painful shoelaces, because wushu athletes
traditionally hit their shoes with their palms as part of their performance.
Nike created pockets to hide shoelace tips for