Nike's Beijing Innovation 2008-Day 2

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Nike previewed their product for the 32 Olympic federations and some amazingly innovative products at their Beijing 2008 Global Summit. Over 300 media and 60 plus public relations staffers met on the Beaverton campus to drool over one amazing innovation after another. From weightlifting and taekwondo, to track & field and running, plus basketball and swimming, we in the media were treated to a sensory overload of products and innovation.

Media from all over the world, Japan, China, Spain, Germany, France, Italy, even Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, were hosted by Nike public relations in the most ambitious public relations duathlon this blogger has ever witnessed. The theme of the two days was Nike has focused on Beijing 2008, and the benefits will not only go to the 7,000 plus elite athletes that Nike will dress for the Olympics, but the five billion every day athletes who watch Beijing from the comfort of their own living room will also benefit from this world of innovation.

This is a subtle change. The Nike of 1996, ( you don't win a silver or bronze medal, you loose gold) is gone. The Nike of 2008, is a bit more realistic, and while they want to dress you and they want you to win, they want to dress and shoe you if you are a five hour marathoner or a five hour pizza maker.

Martha Graham, the nearly immortal modern dance choreagrapher once called dancers "athletes of god." In a talk she gave in her early nineties, this writer remembered her saying that " all people dance." Dance was movement memorialized. This notion, this concept that all could dance but that choreographers could make the duck crawl magical has a parallel in Nike. Stay with me here....

Nike was founded on the theme that running, jumping and throwing has intrinsic value. Phil Knight has had times in his career where he was mesmerized by runners, tennis players, golfers--Nike celebrated the athlete in all of their mud and glory. From guys like Jim Gorman ( first man to run a four minute mile in Nike waffle sole), to Steve Prefontaine, to Jeff Johnson, a man who shipped early Nike shoes in embalming fluid boxes.

Years ago, I flew from Portland to New York for a series of meetings and was bumped into first class. I met an older gentleman who only identified himself as a lawyer. He asked me about my business and when I told him I published running magazines, he began to tell me some stories about Nike's early days. Days full of hard work and doubt, days filled with emotion and hope that one day, they would make enough money to pay the bills on time-times every company has had.

Now, the sixteen billion dollar behemoth has 28,000 employees, and for Beijing, will make shoes for 32 Olympic sports and dress 100 federations.


The presentation that got me the most, the one that rang truest was early on Monday morning, when a brash, humorous 37 year old Irishman spoke about BMX racing, a new Olympic sport. The creative director of BMX for Nike had enough humor, optimism, but also absolute love of the his sport, that this blogger had to comment to himself, " Everyone in the footwear business should be like this! "The clarity and love this man had for his sport, and his sense of history and respect for the groundbreakers came achingly close to stalking--but while it approached the line of stalking, it dropped back to adulation by an adult (with a sense of the kid) who has worshiped his hero for two decades and now, gets to work with him!

It was a presentation that the Nike old guard, the first generation, Jeff Johnson, Gordian Valiant, even Mark Covert would have appreciated. While I have no clue about BMX and have the quiet confidence to state that nothing is a athletic as any track & field event, I do have to tip the hat to BMX racing. It has beauty, grace, and you work your butt off to compete.

The 2008 track and field line will be delivered in five major federation colors ( US, China, Russia, Ethiopia, Japan) and is something to behold. The new track line has some beautiful design, plus great spike plates, well-mastered uppers and some unique names ( one shoe is an Kenyan word for the intestinal track of a goat)-serious and whimsy, all at the same time.

The two most innovative products that I saw over the two days was a revised Ice Vest for Beijing. This vest, one of the most unheralded stories of Athens, had a huge supporting role in keeping Deena Kastor and Meb Keflizighi cool during the early stages of the Olympic marathons.

The Nike Ice Vest from 2004 slowed the rise of body temperature gy 19 percent. The 4.6 kg vest was filled with ice and Deena Kastor was actually shivering before her race in Athens. It should be noted that Nike seems to have put pride in the US team above footwear contracts, as Kastor is an ASICS athlete. When the vest did not get cold enough, a very determined Bob Larsen, one of Kastor's team, found a willing restaraunt worker, an American, who placed the best in a large refrigeration unit, whereby it became quite frozen and the rest, is history-bronze one week, silver the next.

The 2008 vest looks like armor plating from your child's lego set. It is silver, and is covered by triangular spaces which, when filled with water and frozen, provide a moving refrigeration unit. The new vest is 1 kilogram lighter and keeps the body temperature at a 21 percent slow rise. The one thousand vests that will be available for Beijing and the 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit days and 72 percent humidity on said days should be huge demand.

Then, there is the lunar racer. A new racing shoe, Nike sent samples, through USATF to all 75 women marathoners who did not list sponsors. Nike asked them to check the shoes out and provide some suggestions. The shoes have a flourescent yellow-green midsole and while terribly light, also provide enough support that a Lunar trainer is also coming out soon. Yes, there is a tie between the materials and NASA. Seems that ASICS, Mizuno and Nike all visited NASA around the same time, and each company has reacted to the knowledge found there on different manners-Nike made the Lunar racer and trainer. Watch for a review soon in RN publications! The shoe reminds me of the old Mariah racer, a Nike air racing shoe that gave you the feeling of racing on a pillow.

Over the two days, we visited the research lab and saw more shoes and more innovation than one should see in two days. My favorite time, though, came near the end of day two, when Paul Merca, a writer for Northwest Runner, Brian Metzler, Managing editor of Running Times, and Bob Babbit, publisher of Competitor and I noticed Alberto Salazar's team of Kara Goucher, Amy Yoder Bagley, Caitlin Chock, Galen Rupp and Adam Goucher warming up.

For the next half hour, we were transfixed as Kara and Amy ran a five mile tempo run starting at 5.40 and Adam and Galen ran a five mile tempo run starting at 4.50 per mile. Julius Achiong, formerly of George Mason, jumped in between both groups. Adam told us during his warmup that he was feeling great and over injuries, Kara was a bit apprehensive about the tempo run on the grass, and Alberto was the positivist.

" We were all sick this winter, but all are coming around. They complain about the soft surface, it takes three plus laps for a mile, but it is good for them and they do not get injured." smiled Alberto as he went to start timing the crew.

The running of elite athletes is pure and beautiful. Galen Rupp floats like a 10,000 meter runner and Adam Goucher runs like a man possessed. Goucher is looking fit. Amy Yoder Bagley is running well and Kara Goucher runs in her 10,000 meter form.

Watching Caitlin Chock, one of the premier prep athletes of a few years ago run around the field, under Alberto's watchful eye, and the others, two by two, running around the soccer pitch, reminded me of the simplicity of our sport. Find a field, find a road, and they will come.....

Alberto told us that Amy and Kara will run a 5k in Eugene in late April at in the 10k in Stanford, CA in early May. Adam will join Bernard Lagat in a fast 5k at Stanford and Galen, will run a nice 28 minute 10k to get some memory of how 25 laps feels.

As the presenters were telling us about swimming innovations, I could not help but look out the window as Adam and Galan, and Amy and Kara, ran on, lap after lap, reaching out to make their dreams, success in Eugene and Beijing, a reality....

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