This week I had the pleasure of travelling to Amsterdam with Nike for the unveiling of their new Olympic product range ahead of the much anticipated Rio Olympic Games in August. With a strong interest in their product development, it’s always interesting to see exactly how such a huge brand is able to stay ahead of the curve. The end goal for this season’s product line is simple; win as many (gold) medals and world records as possible.
Accompanied by three other UK journalists, upon landing in Amsterdam, we headed straight to the Nike Running Clubhouse to join various other media from around Europe. After some tasty refreshments, we were greeted by Rory Fraser, Nike’s Consumer Insight Manager. It is Rory’s job to ensure that both athletes’ and consumers’ voices are heard so that the products are innovated each season to endlessly improve results. Despite many of Nike’s sponsored athletes currently holding world records and titles, Rory believes that everything can be beaten and is driven to constantly improve the product innovation, by asking questions such as, ‘How do you make the fastest athletes in the world faster?’. Nike are pushing the unlimited potential we all have, in order to achieve the greatest results. Rory took us on a tour of the Nike Running Clubhouse, starting with Nike’s Olympic heritage story, featuring some of Nike’s most prized shoes and running spikes to date.
The story began at the 1980 Moscow Olympics with the first ever pair of Nike spikes to win an Olympic gold medal, worn by Steve Ovett in the 800m final. Alongside Ovett’s spikes, were also those worn by Seb Coe when he took the gold in the 1500m a few days later, gaining Nike’s second ever gold medal. The next monumental moment in their Olympic story jumped to 1986 and Ingrid Kristiansen’s Sock Racer. The Sock Racer is included in Nike’s history as it was the first and only all-polyurethane unit sole with full length air, going on to win several records in the marathon. Following these, were a signed pair of Quincy Watts’ 1993 Nike Zoom S after he was the first Nike athlete to win two gold medals the previous year in Barcelona. The most popular pair in the tour was no doubt Michael Johnson’s gold pair of spikes from 1996. Interestingly, Nike originally created a silver pair for Johnson, which would react best to the running track lights and photographer’s flashes, however upon presenting them to Johnson before the Olympics in his hotel room, he pointed out that silver meant second place and he wanted first. Sending a team away to work day and night, the outcome was this pair of gold spikes, which consequently saw him take home gold in both the 200m and 400m, setting the new world record for 200m. The last shoe on the tour was the flyknit which debuted in 2012, tested by several marathoners. The shoe featured Paula Radcliffe’s notes about where to alter the structure, tighten the fit, increase stiffness or flexibility. I couldn’t help but think if this year’s Nike Superbly Elite spike will feature in the heritage story in years to come.
We were then shown around the remainder of the Clubhouse and treated to an extensive look at this year’s product line.
Ahead of the summer, Nike designers have not only been concerned with outfitting their athletes, but also accelerating and improving the performance of the athletes. With so many varied sports now participating in the olympics, Nike’s footwear designers have their work cut out.
Starting with sprinting, the 100m can be broken up into three phases; drive, maximum velocity and maintenance. The rare runner who can master all phases breaks records. Working very closely with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Nike acknowledged that she is unbeatable through 70m but after that point, has to fight to maintain her lead. Examining her stride characteristics in order to maximise energy return, the design team sought to deliver the ideal plate stiffness for the sprinter’s power and foot size. The design team first looked into making the spike plate stiffer, so to increase the foot’s ability to drive propulsive force into the ground, in turn, increasing speed, however the shoe must also be as light as possible. The correct balance was eventually achieved through computational design tools and 3D-printing. Prototyping various models led to the creation of a spike plate that eliminated traditional screw-in spikes in favour of fixed pins and an increase of secondary traction. This ensures the foot is closer to the track and, thus, faster off it. Eventually, the Superfly Elite spike was created, propelling Fraser-Pryce down the track 0.13 seconds faster; a gap that could mean the difference between winning gold and missing out on a medal altogether.
The design team then looked to extend the Superfly Elite plate innovation across all track and field footwear, noting that as event distances go up, speed becomes less about stiffness and more about endurance, placing cushioning at the fore. The same push and pull applies to the upper: while the 100 and 200 metres require maximum containment, longer distances necessitate more breathability. A majority of the new track and field footwear can be seen below.
Once the silhouette’s were finalised, it was up to the colour design team to create the most striking design to really bring the shoes to life, as seen through the lens of cameras. The team focused on nature and examined the colours on animals and insects when they move within their environments, drawn specifically to tropical rain forests; home to birds, with their attention-grabbing, color-shifting feathers; and beetles, with their futuristic shining shells. A gradient fusion of Nike volt and hyper-punch pink is used throughout the collection. Nike volt emerged in 2012, with the purpose of being the most visible colour to the human eye, and is placed at the front of the shoes to give the striking colour transitioned into hyper-punch pink so that on camera’s it looks like a blur when the shoe is in motion. This will give the effect that the athletes are running even faster than they are. It also harmoniously pairs with the footwear’s metallic spike plates, which, similar to the aforementioned beetle shells, feature an iridescent flash that shimmers silver, purple and blue.
The main aim with product development in the track and field kits is to reduce drag. Drag is the opposing force in Newton’s Third Law of Motion fighting an athletes speed. The vapour kits are fitted with AeroSwift technology, minimising weight featuring recycled polyester; and AeroBlades, tiny blades developed in wind tunnels that best reduce drag on the clothing. Designers extended this principle to create the Nike AeroSwift Bib, that can affix directly onto the kit, forming a seamless, stretchable layer that moves with the body. It can withstand a marathon’s worth of weather and wear, but still easily peel off at the end of the race.
After hearing all about the products and the lengths that the Nike innovation and design teams go to in order to produce the best possible products, it was time for us to put some to the test with the N+RC. After unlocking our own personalised lockers to find some Nike running gear and a pair of the new LunarEpic Flyknit Low’s inside a pretty ridiculous shoe box, we were all set for a 4k run through Amsterdam to the W Hotel. Led by members of the Amsterdam Nike+ Run Club, it was the perfect way to see Amsterdam for the first time, having travelled directly to the venue from the airport. It felt like the perfect running shoe for the cobbled streets; with the thick cushioning of the Lunarlon midsole absorbing all of the uneven impact. Modelled from a gecko’s foot, the outer sole is built up of several blocks, which all react and move independently according to the pressure distribution and actually works very effectively. Once checked in and refreshed, we were straight back out again, this time on bikes to cycle through the city to the Opening Ceremony of the European Athletics Championships, conveniently taking place in Amsterdam the following day.
After another cycle trying to stay together as a large group and navigate our way through the traffic systems, this time during rush hour, it was time for a nice meal at Jansz restaurant. The dawning thought of an evening HIT & Run session kept most people off the alcohol during the meal, but one or two was always going to be fine, right?
With a fresh set of training clothes and the meal’s barely digested, it was time to jump into taxi’s back to the Clubhouse for the main event. Referring to the afternoon run as a gentle warm up, it was now time to put the trainers (and ourselves) to the test with a treadmill session led by some of the European Nike Master Trainer’s. An outdoor stage provided the perfect sunset setting, joined by some of the local Nike running clubs. Yet again, the shoe’s did not show any faults; giving us headphones and rinsing some jungle is always going to be a good way to improve performance. Although we didn’t have the energy to explore the Amsterdam nightlife, a few of us headed to the hotel bar to see the evening out with the Nike UK team.
The schedule for the following morning was an intense N+TC session led by two of the UK’s most experienced Master Trainers who flew out especially for the event. The ‘light’ workout took its toll on most of the group, as we tested a completely new set of products, including the Nike Train Ultrafast Flyknit, designed specifically for high intensity training. Once the session was out the way and we were all packed up, we had just enough time to wander around the local streets and grab a bite to eat in the glorious sunshine before heading back to the airport.
The trip was a blast and a pleasure to be a part of. Many thanks to Amy and all of the Nike team.