Nike is involved in all things sports worldwide. It is easy for the younger generation to forget that Nike originated on the hearts, brains, fingers and feet of track and field athlete Phil Knight and his Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman. Nike’s birth was all based upon a handshake between the two future icons when forming the company. The current Swoosh leadership has not forgotten their beginnings. In that rare combination of pursuit of financial success and historical homage, Nike has always gone “Back to the Future” (please don’t get me started on that shoe coming out in December!) in regards to our Sport.
Mark Parker’s Air Max, photo by Brianna Benjamin
So when the Nike Air Max Con took place this at the end of March, this writer, along with my daughter Brianna and faithful Nike Track Nut Ken Christensen, decided to venture into the world of the exponentially growing young cult known as the “Sneakerheads”. Amid a \setting which had to remind one of the Renaissance era period in medieval Italy, the 3-day Nike Air max Con took place last week over 3 days on the west side of downtown Manhattan. The Con (which also simultaneously took place in Hong Kong and Tokyo) paid tribute to the 1987 creation of the Air Max shoe, a product which has rapidly grown with different models and design throughout the years, and, by the way, resembles the running shoes which Nike has built upon for more than 4 decades now.
Mark Parker, photo by Brianna Benjamin
While many of these “Sneakerheads” walked around in awe of the various interactive exhibits (which consisted of displays of all styles of artwork and design dedicated to the AirMax, along with an interactive area which encouraged artisans to try their own craft on the shoe (and even a nail salon), film viewing area, voting activities and a shopping area too!) this writer was very curious to see if the Air Max Con would fit not like the square peg-round hole concept into our Sport of running and track & field, but hopefully smoothly and consistently. Where does authentic sport and cult status meet!
Air Max and Retro Internationalists, photo by Brianne Benjamin
Right after walking through the entrance area again and encountering the very stunning “Air to the Throne” model bird ( which was designed by Christophe Roberts using old Nike boxes!), I was interested in seeing the influence by our fellow tracksters on this event, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield and Nike CEO Mark Parker. And While the influence of Hiroshi Fujiwara cannot be overlooked, it’s these two icons who came from the Sport that peaked this writer’s interest.
Air Max Con, photo by Brianna Benjamin
Tinker Hatfield, who was an outstanding all-around athlete in high school, competed for Bowerman at Oregon just like Knight, where he set the school record in the Pole Vault. An interest in architecture influenced Hatfield in his early years at Nike, which resulted in designs of shoes which are household names today, including the Air Max. Mark Parker ran for Penn State and also sports a respectable marathon PR (his wife Kathy Mills also went to Penn State and set the World Record for 5000 meters in 1978!) and, with a degree in Political Science, somehow went right to work designing shoes for Nike where he and Hatfield began honing their crafts. Of course, knowing that runners were designing these shoes definitely gave this runner some comfort (pardon the pun). One of the shoes designed during the 80’s, the Nike Internationalist, was a personal favorite of mine during my high school years. And while the company always seems on the move in different sports and other forms of entertainment and fashion, the question facing this writer was did running and track still have a place at the Air Max Con?
The answers start when entering the “Air Max Vault”, an area which saluted all of the Air Max models throughout the decades. Arranged in these bubbly-like tubes, each model had its own bio accompanying it on display. From there one went on to the “The H-T-M Room,” with the letters signifying the initial first names of the “Big 3” of Air Max.
This area, which was a combination of history, marketing and tribute, consisted of bios and silhouettes of the designers and these interesting giant tubes named for each of them. The tube allowed one to go inside and take selfie pics with the newest models rotating from inside a glass display below one’s feet!
With everything going on at the Con, it was easy to get lost in the wonder and images of it all. But running and track have definitely not been shuffled off to side by this exhibit. If anything, the Sneakerheads, who consist of twenty-thirty year olds, as well as millenials, seemed to understand and appreciate Nike’s history of shoe-making, and the Swoosh is successfully drawing them in.
With what is happening with the sport these days, one wonders if IAAF President Sebastian Coe, who has stressed that our sport needs these age-groups as new fans for it to flourish, can somehow tap into this style of interactiveness, design, and tradition to lure these groups into the sport from where Nike originated from and continues to be influenced from to this day, thanks to Mark Parker and Tinker Hatfield.