My top 5 shoes of the past 50 years!
Sunday represents 50 years exactly since Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on a celestial body - the Earth's Moon.
He climbed out of the lunar module, and touched down on the Moon's surface on July 21 at 02:56:15 UTC . I can vividly remember sitting in the school hall, watching the grainy TV coverage live.. it was quite a moment!
However, it was actually his colleague and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin who made what might be the most iconic footprint in man's history, on the moon's surface.
This absolutely fabulous image shows Buzz Aldrin posing on the Moon, allowing Neil Armstrong to photograph both of them using the visor's reflection.
Aldrin's footprints are clearly visible in the foreground and remain undisturbed on the surface of the moon to this day.
The conspiraccy theorists love to note that Amstrong's moon boot does not match the footprint..
however, this is the boot worn by Aldrin on that day as he decents the ladder of Eagle to take his first steps.
Quite clearly his boot's outsole matches the footprint.. conspiracy theory busted.
But all this got me thinking about footwear and 50 years, and I thought it might be fun for me to propose my 5 greatest sports shoes of the last 50 years, one for each decade.
What will be even more fun will be all the discussion, argument and name calling.. bring it on!
So, let's get to it and begin back when the lunar module 'Eagle" hit the moon, 1969!
The decade 1969 -1979 - Onitsuka Corsair/Nike Cortez
Few sneakers have a more fascinating lineage than this classic Onitsuka Tiger. If you think there’s something familiar about this elegant retro racer then you’d be right. This was THE jogging shoe of the early 70s.
Layered like a sponge cake, nothing rivaled the comfort of the cushy sole unit. In fact, it was so good that a certain other sneaker brand couldn’t help but make their own carbon copy, but more about that later.
Pictured here is an advanced prototype of the Onitsuka Corsair, first released in 1969
Designed for the 1968 Mexico Games, but mass released in November 1969, the brains behind the design was none other than Bill Bowerman, legendary Oregon track coach and jogging guru. Bowerman had sunk a chunk of change into a small Beaverton-based distribution company called Blue Ribbon Sports, which was run by one of his former pupils, Phil Knight.
Tiger trainers turned out to be top sellers and Blue Ribbon was lucky enough to hold the exclusive rights to Kihachiro Onitsuka’s innovative running shoes.
On board as a Blue Ribbon technical advisor, Bowerman built a prototype of a new runner from the best bits of two existing Tiger models. Haphazardly held together with horse pins, Onitsuka Tiger still thought this hybrid creation was a ‘splendid idea’ and quickly set about putting it into production.
All it needed was a catchy name. Originally annointed Aztec in honour of the Olympic host city, adidas spoiled the ceremony by releasing the Azteca Gold.
Threatened with legal action, the name was changed at the last minute to Cortez, or as Bowerman put it, ‘That Spaniard who kicked the shit out of the Aztecs!’.
An instant hit, the Cortez was years ahead of the competition. Generously loaded with shock absorbent cushioning along the full length of the footbed, the Cortez also had an extra splice in the heel offering more bounce for the ounce.
Eventually the marriage between Onitsuka and Blue Ribbon Sports soured.
Whilst distributing Tiger, Knight and Bowerman had developed their own line of sneakers called... Nike.
Unbeknownst to their Japanese partners, they’d also been producing their own ‘Nike’ branded Cortez, identical to the Onitsuka Tiger version bar the chubby ticks that replaced the slim Tiger stripes.
As told by Julie Strasser in her amazing book Swoosh, Nike’s Cortez betrayal was only discovered when an Onitsuka official visited Blue Ribbon’s L.A. warehouse and stumbled across pairs hidden in the storeroom.
Few shoes have created such a seismic shift in the sneaker business. A court later decreed that both Onitsuka and Nike could sell the Cortez model.
Nike retained the shoe’s original name, while Tiger dubbed their version the Corsair.
It is still the only sneaker to become a best-selling model for two different shoe companies
- thanks to https://www.sneakerfreaker.com for the history lesson!
The decade 1979 -1989 - Nike Tailwind
I am sure this inclusion will raise a few eyebrows, but I remember this shoe when I was a newly minted podiatrist, and it just seemed like the most exotic and technical shoe I had ever seen.. or heard of. For many years, Nike were not Nike, it was "Nike Air", and this.. was the shoe that started it all.
There are a lot of Nike haters out there, but I still consider Nike one of the greatest innovative brands in the history of sports footwear, an opinion I hold today and direct toward 2019 product!
As the story goes, in 1977, aerospace technology specialist Frank Rudy came to Nike with an ingenious idea: to put an air pocket inside the sole of a shoe as a form of more sufficient cushioning. Nike took that idea and ran with it--literally.
Within a year, Nike introduced the first shoe ever to feature its proprietary Air technology in the appropriately named Air Tailwind running shoe.
Following just a short stint in Nike’s R&D facilities, the Air Tailwind was released in limited quantities in Hawaii ahead of the 1978 Honolulu Marathon.
It didn’t take long for the game-changing shoe to sell out and create an undying buzz in the running world. Thus a legend was born.
Though weary of the idea at first, runners were eager to put the innovative cushioning platform to the test.
They got their chance the following year in 1979, when Nike announced a full-fledged distribution effort for the Air Tailwind.
The Tailwind was certainly not the best shoe ever made, but it broke new ground for technological advancement and gave birth to a legend that remains to this day.
The decade 1989-1999 - ASICS GEL Kayano Trainer
How can I not include this shoe? Apart from being the very first in the most successsful technical running shoe franchise of all time, it was also the very first shoe I had significant input into. Right at the beginning of my 20+ years with ASICS.
It all started in Kobe, Japan, in early 1993. Shoe designer Toshikazu Kayano had been working at ASICS headquarters for five years when he received a special assignment: to create a hybrid shoe for the new “cross-training” movement; a shoe that proved ideal for long-distance outdoor running and also for indoor training at the gym while also implementing the company’s latest impact-reducing and performance-enhancing technologies.
ASICS had found the right man. Toshikazu Kayano, who would become the series’ namesake and a friend of mine, stepped to the plate with the perfect track record.
A quietly spoken and profoundly humble man, Kayano-san was about to create footwear history.
His previous design work included ASICS shoes for basketball, volleyball and running, so creating a cross-training shoe would draw on all these experiences. Plus, he had spent extended periods of time working in the United States, where cross-training was in full bloom.
But still, this was the biggest assignment of his career. Internally, the high-profile project carried the enigmatic name “TOP OF RUNNING SHOE”. Poised for market entry in fall 1993, the original positioning saw the new shoe as an exclusive model specifically aimed at the US market.
It would also be a successor to the premium GT-Cool Xpress, a GT Series model based on the X-Caliber GT.
In support of his development efforts and to help with the relatively tight timeline, Toshikazu Kayano was given access to all the company’s technological resources at the ASICS research lab, initially created by the company’s godfather, Kihachiro Onitsuka, with the aim of raising sports performance through technology in 1979.
What’s more, the project sponsor at ASICS told him: “Make what you want to make. We don’t care what the retail price will be.”
As far as I know, only one other ASICS shoe had such a brief and unlimited budget, the highly conceptual ASICS GEL Kinsei.
Now all Kayano needed was a concept…
Remembered the philosophy pursued by company founder Kihachiro Onitsuka in creating his first basketball shoes: “He designed the outsole inspired by an octopus. That story impressed me so much; this is how he approaches design!”
Having been raised in the Japanese countryside, this approach resonated deeply with Kayano. “For me nature was the only beautiful thing,” he said, pointing out the beauty in natural sights and abandoned buildings. For his new cross-training shoe, Kayano found inspiration in something relatively small, yet somewhat ferocious: the heavily armored insect known as the stag beetle.
The panel-on-panel construction that makes the shoe such a beloved classic and on-trend item comes from the overall creative story of “armoring”, from the aggressive and distinctive mandibles, firm body and quick motion of the stag beetle. “My design process was to consolidate all the functional demands first and then interpret those demands into a concept … and that was the stag beetle!” said Kayano.
I worked on all Kayano models and with Toshikazu Kayano right up until the Kayano 18 in 2012, 19 models in all, because the millenial model of 2000 did not have a number, it was simply thhe ASICS GEL Kayano. This has obviously a career highlight and rare priviledge!
The full story of the beginnings of the ASICS Kayano may be read here.
The decade 1999 -2009 - adidas KB8
The adidas KB8, now known as the Crazy 8, was a performance beast thanks to Feet You Wear technology. This design was originally employed in the KB8, the first shoe under Kobe Bryant's adidas contract, but when it was reissued in 2005, three years after Kobe’s departure from the brand, the shoe needed a new name. Not only is this a popular NBA shoe, but it is a staple among adidas’ college programs.
I remember "Feet You Wear" technology from adidas very well.
Feet You Wear technology was developed and designed by Frampton Ellis, a third-party inventor outside of adidas, who then licensed its use to the brand.
Designed to mimic the natural curves and shape of the human foot, Feet You Wear was invented by Ellis after noticing how the squared-off soles of traditional footwear designs were one of the main causes of ankle roll and overall instability in footwear.
By creating a wider, lower-to-the-ground base with an organic curve from outsole to midsole, the shoe provided better stability for lateral movements. After Ellis shopped the technology around to various brands, it was adidas that bit, debuting the first Feet You Wear models in 1996 with plans to use it in the majority of their performance footwear going forward.
It was then heartily embraced by revered, then adidas chief biomechanist, (and now departed) Alex Stacoff, a really lovely bloke. He presented his thoughts at the International Society of Biomechanics Footwear Biomecahnics Symposium in Zurich, Switzerland, 2001.
I remember this for 2 reasons, first was that this seminar coincided with something called the Züri Fäscht, four days of drinking and outrageous behaviour. How unlucky was I??
Second, Stacoff's research came under major fire from the heavyweights of the industry of the time. Mario LaFortune from Nike got stuck in amongst a few others if I remember correctly.
But I believe Stacoff's interpretation of Ellis's design was years ahead of its time, and, ironically, we are seeing more than a few elements of FYW in the current Nike basketball ranges.
1996 was the year that adidas unveiled their Feet You Wear technology in running, the innovative new design principle based on the concept of natural motion for a shoe that acted as an extension of the wearer’s foot.
It did not appear in basketball until 3 years later, where in my opinion, it was to have its most profound impact.
Perfect timing aligned the debut of Feet You Wear in basketball with the introduction of Kobe Bryant to the NBA, the hottest new adidas team member. Although he only averaged 15 minutes per game his first season with the Lakers, Kobe’s well publicized jump from high school straight to the pros still created buzz around the young phenom, which translated to an ideal endorser for the new-look adidas sneakers.
Kobe signed on with adidas before he was even drafted, after being hand-picked by basketball sneaker industry guru Sonny Vaccaro, who had recently joined adidas after being fired by Nike. The man who helped convince Nike they absolutely needed to sign Michael Jordan back in 1984 struck lightning again with Kobe, who would soon become the league’s most electrifying player and the face of adidas Basketball.
The KB8 pictured here is from 1999, with Kobe Bryant now established as a major star, and represents what I believe is the purest expression of FYW in basketball.
A great shoe!
The decade 2009 -2019 - Salomon Predict
It should be the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% right? Or even the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Next%. These are the shoes that might break the 2 hour marathon time correct?
But I am giving the award to a shoe I consider my baby, and probably my best contribution to running footwear design at a performance level. I hope it provides something of a legacy, if such a thing is neccessary, but it is something I am extraordinarily proud of.
The reason I can be so audacious to even suggest that this is the shoe of the current decade is that it does something that no other shoe can, and no other shoe ever has done.
Yes, I hear you say, but the Nike Vaporfly % actually improves performance. And I agree the evidence certainly tends to support this notion, but it is far from clear cut.
The difference with the Predict is not that it will make you run faster, it won't.
Nor will it be the shoe worn by the athlete who breaks the 2 hour marathon barrier (it will be an athlete, not a shoe that achieves this lofty goal)!
It is not even particularly pretty, but it sure is different.
However, the reason I choose this shoe above all other for this, our current decade, is that the Salomon Predict should go down in history as the first shoe to be able to clearly demonstrate reductions in the major loads at major joints with definite link to injury.
This to me, as a sports podiatrist, is more important than speed.
The shoe was born out of a drawing NZ running footwear legend Craig Taylor stuck under my nose about 3 years ago in Annecy, France.
It was a simple graphic showing the major articulations of the human foot, with the bottom unit of a shoe superimposed.
This started a conversation about what a shoe that really works with the foot, not against, it should look like.
Remember we were coming off the back of the barefoot/minimalist shlock, and there had been a lot of introspection and hand wringing within the indiustry.
One thing was for sure, running footwear was well overdue for a shakeup.
So Craig and I slowly developed a concept that a running shoe should be built around a series of floating "platforms", that were able to move independently of each other but synchronously, just like... a foot!
There was to be no homogeneity of the midsole, but it would be heavily decoupled and this decoupling of the bottom unit would be aligned with the major and important joints of the foot: the subtalar joint, the calcaneocuboid joint, the talonavicular joint.. etc.
All joints responsible for correct and efficient foot function.
We knew we could design a shoe that did not interfer with normal joint function, and we thought this would have an effect in relation to effficient load transfer from point of contact to propulsion.
We built the midsole and we tested it.. then we tested it agian.
The results were staggering, but now we had a huge challenge.
We knew this midsole was doing something extraordinary, but there was every chance that the upper would interfer with its function.
So.. with the help of the Salomon designers and developers, we painstakingly designed the entire upper in a way that would compliment the functional bottom unit.
It was ultimately to be a revolutionary 2 piece upper, with the back piece build in a factory that does not make footwear, but Bras for all the Vicoria's Secret models!
With great trepidation we took it back into the laboratory and tested it with a cohort of 24 runner.
Then we took it back.. then we sent it back again.. in all five times, because we did not believe the data coming back.
Major reduction in hip joint loading (in excess of 15%).
Major change in hip, knee and foot kinematics (in a very flexible and very light shoe approximately 270gms).
As, or more stable, than matched competitor stability shoes.
No detectable increased load distally at the Achilles tendon.
Right, so there must be an energy penalty (quoth Professor Benno Nigg who was acting as a consultant on this project), back to the lab... for gas analysis.
Nothing.. no penalty in economy or efficiency.
So the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Predict actually does what it was originally conceived to do by Craig and I, reduce many of the most important input loads associated with running.
And that is why it is my shoe of the decade!
* I no longer work with Salomon, and so have no vested interest in promoting this shoe any more than any of the other dozens of shoes I have worked on over my 30 year career.
Director of Bartold Clinical