Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New shoes seen around the Bird’s Nest

Not all new shoe innovations work and when the giant of the industry experienced a particular disaster rarely do they continue with that line. This happened recently to adidas with equestrian boots. Another back to the drawing board was when the Three Stripes failed to make shoes for high jumping, U.S. Gold medallist, Richard ‘Dick’ Fosbury had to abandon his new shoes because they were too slippery for the event. Failure to achieve optimum performance may be one good reason why companies have become more circumspect about the potential of their new shoes on the block. Only after the medals are won are we likely to seen and hear of the footwear marvels which contributed. The Beijing Olympics was a real watershed separating the sheep from the goats when it came to shoes for champions. It appears little separates the products of the industries leaders and to quote Seinfeld, it’s all a bit, “same old same old.” What is new is athletes sponsored by companies and contractually obligated to wear their sponsor’s shoes are now allowed to wear their preferred footwear for heats provided they appear suitable shod in their sponsor’s shoes at photo-opportunities and official ceremonies. Although companies like Adidas-Salomon and Nike have their preferred sports such as running, basketball, tennis and training they also target other popular sports with their new range of footwear.

Based on feedback from the world’s top archers shoes were designed to help the athlete execute precise use of a bow and arrow. Like golfers archers anchor their bodies to control breathing as they aim at a target. An archer’s stance is the foundation for a well-placed shot and it is important to have a wide base of gait to stabilise the body’s centre of gravity; shoe cleats that can grip grass or synthetic turf; and an elevated heel. Archers shoes have three main criteria i.e. lightweight, stable and comfortable. adidas brought out the adiStar shoe which allows the archer to feel the ground. The shoe’s high top design gives the psychological feeling of stability whilst offering a large footprint to give a stable stance. The single layer mesh upper (coincidently called the Bird’s Nest) with perforated tongue and collar allows air to circulate around the foot. The shoes are lightweight weighing 24.4 oz and the 3-Stripes® was made from welded flexible thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPU) to provide added mid foot support. Rivals Nike introduced the Akribis archery shoe with an Astrograbber outsole.

Sport shoes must not give athletes an unfair advantage over other competitors but should be able to accommodate the biomechanics of the event and individual. From walking to middle distance running, the design of the sport shoe relates to a normal walking cycle, which starts with heel strike and finishes with toe off. In sprinting, heel strike is omitted as the ball of the foot provides contact point and pivot. This means there is often a significant difference in the appearance of training shoes from competition shoes. Sprinting shoes for example there is no raised heel. Track athletes wear tight fitting, lightweight, robust shoes with spiked soles from the metatarsal heads to the toes. The spikes give the runner grip against the ground allowing them to propel forwards reaching speeds up to 40km/h (25mph). Spikes need to be compatible with artificial tracks if optimal traction is to be achieved. New developments in artificial tracks and clever use of polymer technology have given track athletes optimally efficient footwear, suffice it is the skill of the athlete that wins events and not the shoes they wear. Most athletes adjust their shoes to meet specific requirements of their sport.

High jumpers
They commonly wear two different shoes during competition. They may wear a high pump shoe with heel spikes on their take off foot whilst sporting a training shoe on the other.

Road runners
In 1960 Olympics (Rome), the marathon was won by the Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, the first black African to win an Olympic title and he did it running, barefoot. Bikila won by more than half a minute in a world best. Four years later he repeated his victory setting a new world record but this time, wearing shoes. Abede Bikila wore thin soled runners little more than two pieces of cardboard. He warmed down with a series of brisk exercises afterwards while he waited for the remainder of the field to reach the stadium. Modern road runners need shoes to protect the feet from incessant pounding over hard surfaces. Footwear must fit comfortably, wear well and give the runner support against the hard concrete competition surfaces. Polyurethane materials and gases are frequently incorporated into shoe sole design to dampen peak pressures. Road running shoes incorporate heel lifts. Although walking events differ from road running, athletes wear the same style shoes. A popular choice in Beijing was the Nike LunaRacer which are lightweight (5.5 ounces) shoes and cushioned with Lunarlite foam (a special rubber mixed with foam made from recycled polyester). The Nike LunaRacer features Flywire technology in the upper. Asics introduced "wet grip soles" imbedded with rice husks. The brainwave came from a collaboration with former marathoner Hitoshi Mimura. A further feature a ventilation system which is sand- and dust-resistant to reduce foot irritation. The Finnish athlete, Lasse Viren ran the 5,000 and 10,000m at the Munich Olympics (XXth Olympiad) and wore asic shoes. Four years later he celebrated his gold medal victory of the 10,000m in Montreal with a barefoot lap of honour holding aloft his winning shoes. This was considered to be the first real endorsement of sport shoes by an athlete and heralded the end of the status of the amateur.

Baseball boots
Baseball boots are similar in style to the old soccer boots. Traction is increased with screw-in plates (heel and toe) and metal and plastic types are chosen depending on playing surfaces.

Basketball players wear over the ankle boots (high tops) with protective ankle padding. Traction is important and the synthetic soles have rough surfaces. Converse were the company that invented the basketball shoe. Chuck Taylor All Stars were canvas shoe invented around 1920 by a hoosier and shoe maker, called Marquis M. Converse. The uppers were originally made of canvas but now most boots are made in leathers. The company were quick to recognise the importance of sportsperson endorsement with Chuck Taylor and 'Chucks'. Fashion dashes were later incorporated which helped reinforce layovers. The rubber soled shoe gave the player some protection during landing, turning and take off. The Converse brand was established in 1908, and has built a reputation as 'America's Original Sports Company,'(TM). Converse have been part of the modern Olympics since 1936, when basketball was played for the first time as an official Olympic sport. In 1936, the U.S. men's team competed in Converse¨ Chuck Taylor¨ All Star¨ shoes, defeating Canada 19-8 on a clay court to win the gold medal. When Converse failed to innovate, adidas overtook them in the 1970s. In 1984, the U.S. men's basketball team again played in Converse and won the gold in the same year it served as the official footwear sponsor of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. When Nike sponsored Michael Jordan they became the best selling basketball shoes in the US and Nike and adidas have been bitter rivals ever since. The emphasis for the Athens Olympics was to keep the temperature of the players’ feet down and so shoes were designed with air conditioning systems. In Beijing it was important to make lightweight shoes which were robust. Nike released the superlight (13 ounces) Nike Hyperdunk shoe series for the Olympics which was created by designer Eric Avar. At 18 % lighter than the average basketball shoe the company claim these were the lightest and strongest basketball shoes, ever. The Hyperdunk combines Flywire technology, with Lunarlite foam and Zoom Air in the heel. A small keyhole at the ankle ensures the upper stays with the leg for hard-angle cuts, and the flex grooves between each toe allow players to articulate and flex each toe for added stability, flexibility and comfort. Adidas continue to match these developments. Converse which is now a subsiduary of Nike have been associated with a rich heritage of legendary shoes such as ‘the Chuck Taylor All Star’(high top) , the Jack Purcell tennis shoe, and the One Star court shoe. John Edward "Jack" Purcell (1903 – 1991) was a world champion badminton player from Canada. In 1935 he designed a canvas and rubber badminton shoe for the B.F. Goodrich Company of Canada. Jack Purcell sneakers are still produced today by Converse. Although they still produce quality basketball shoes edorsed by key players the company continues to promote fashionable sport shoes. One frustration expressed by many female basketball players is the apparent gender disparity that exists with real basketball shoes only available in mens sizes. Many professional women basketball players wear men’s shoes, because they are superior. Companies are slowly beginning to acknowledge this frustration and cater better for women athlete's feet.

Beach Volleyball
Beach volleyball players do not wear shoes in competition but when in extreme temperatures or playing over coarse sand this does interfere with performances. Nike developed the Zesti beach volleyball sock which is made from a breathable, seamless fabric that protects the foot like a second skin and on the sole there are also moulded rubber cleats for protection and stability. The Zesti also features a split toe for balance. The Nike Zesti (Zesti meaning "Sun" in Greek) is made from a tightly knit seamless fabric that fits like a protective second skin is feather-light, breathable and impenetrable to sand. Thin weld seals keep the cleats securely under foot during critical cuts and dives.

Boxers wear high cut lacing boots (12 holes) with thin flat soles, no heels and uppers made from soft leather. adidas boxing boots called Adidas Box Champ Speed II 2008 were introduced for the Olympics> The boots were welded together to prevent stitching and had mid soles made from die-cut ehtyl vinyl acetate (EVA) for added cushioning. Most sportsmen are superstiticious and boxers are no exception. After Henry Cooper lost a fight wearing shiny boots he refused to wear polished boots again and knocked down Cassius Clay (aka Mohamed Ali ) wearing unpolished boots. In the 60s, the World Champion Heavyweight boxer Willy Pastrano tied his wedding ring to his left bootlace for good luck.

Canoe shoes
Nike introduced Dynami shoes for canoeists. These had sticky rubber compound on the outsole to prevent slipping on a canoe’s wet floor. Midfoot and heel straps tie the shoe to the foot.

Crew windsurfing and sailing
Nike’s Synetairos feature a drainable neoprene upper and a synthetic abrasion-resistant panel on top that guards against the windsurf board’s foot straps. Synetairos (Greek for “Partner,”) is also worn by sailors and has a neoprene sleeve to reduce water retention. There is a fully moulded toe protection overlay. The shoes are lightweight with a midfoot strap and soles made from a wet rubber compound for sticky traction that is used in other water-based sports footwear.

Just over a decade ago, a clip less pedal system was devised for cycling. Previous to this a toe clip and strap secured the foot to the pedal. These clips could create fatigue and pain on longer rides and the straps needed to be loosened before coming to a stop. Now the system utilizes cycling shoes with a cleat that snap into a clasp on the pedal. There are two versions: those with exposed cleats, called "cycling-only shoes", and those with cleats recessed in the bottom of the shoe and initially designed for mountain bikes. Cleats are positioned according to biomechanics as the foot requires to be held firmly in place during the pedal stroke. For maximum energy efficiency and prevention of injury, the cleat should be positioned with the ball of the foot centred over the pedal. Iliotibial band syndrome and inflammation of the medial patellofemoral ligament are the injuries most often associated with improper cleat positioning. Many clip less pedals incorporate 'floating' cleats which allow for rotation and lateral foot motion of the lower extremity on the pedal. Competitive cyclists appreciate the aerodynamic benefits of a narrow tread width (the distance between the centres of both pedals), which also guards against knee injury. To avoid forcing the knee to externally or internally rotate, the tread width requires to be approximately the width of the pelvic joints. Sometimes when cyclists have one leg longer than the other in which case specially made shoes require to be worn.

Equestrian boots
Nike's boot called the Ippeas (Greek for "rider") is another lightweight innovation made from leather and synthetics. In the tradition of riding boots the footwear offers traction and communication with the horse through a thin, high-abrasion synthetic rubber material on the side of the boot.

The new Nike fencing shoe called the Ballestra followed consultation with 2004 and 2008 gold medallist, Mariel Zagunis and features air cushioning and extra foam in the heel to soften fencing lunges. The design team headed up by senior research biomechanist Jeff Pisciotta, took 18 months to develop shoe. Once shoe prototypes were developed fencers were invited to attend Nike’s Sport Research Lab in Beaverton, Oregon US and other labs in Germany, for further tests. Shoes were fitted with pressure-monitoring inserts comprising of 99 high-resolution sensors, capable of sampling at 250 samples per second. These sensors measured pressure, vertical force, timing, and contact area distribution. Force platforms where used to look at ground reaction forces between the foot and ground during various fencing actions. High-speed video, at up to 500 frames per second, was used in conjunction with the force platform and pressure inserts, to collect kinematics and joint angle information. Fencers were asked to go through the various motions associated with fencing, and biomechanical and sensory perception data were collected and processed to help inform further changes to the prototypes. The forces associated with each of the three major patterns of fencing i.e. lunge, advance, and retreat had to be addressed in the design of the shoe. Analysis revealed fencers placed up to 7 times body weight on their lead foot which would equate to the G force generated by a basketball player landing after a slam dunk. As a result the need for shock attenuation (cushioning) was a high priority in the new fencing shoes. The fencing action of ‘lunging’ caused significant sheer on the medial side of the shoe and the shell of the shoe required to dampen down peak impact forces on the heel area whilst providing optimal cushioning for the entire foot for comfort. The asymmetry of the sport caused the designers to ponder whether two separate shoes were required. However in mass production it is more economical to make symmetrically designed shoes often with the right and left shoes made in different factories and only paired in the box. In the end it was decided to make a shoe for the competitive fencer that was durable, lightweight, and affordable and the team stuck with a symmetrical design to reduce production, distributor, and retail costs. The basic structure of the Nike Ballestra is a fencing shoe with a seamless, leather upper incorporating a series of reinforcing webbing loops inside the upper to reinforce the shoe and support the foot inside. The leather is treated to be abrasion free and works in accord with the shoes cushioning. This is particularly useful in the trailing shoes which is subjected in the normal course of events to excessive sheer. The shoe has no sockliner which makes it overall lighter and also prevents unnecessary rubbing. The Ballestra is shaped to give a rocker action which helps spread pressure and impact force and the midsole contains a mixture of polyurethane shock absorbing materials to cushion against impact forces, resist compaction and loss of cushioning over the life of the shoe. The hard wearing outsole which is made from durable rubber compound wraps up on the medial side and covers the area of the first phalanx and the tip of the toe. This extension of the outsole works together with the upper to resist wear when the fencer is up on their toes, especially on the trailing foot as it rolls or drags during a lunge. Incorporated into the sole are various flex grooves that extend into the midsole and are scaled depending on shoe size so that they align with the areas of the foot that tend to flex when getting up on the forefoot area or when rolling toward the medial side of the trailing foot during a lunge. The flex grooves help the fencer feel for the piste without compromising cushioning. At the Beijing Games Margherita Granbassi wore a special pink and black version when she won the bronze medal.

Handball is like squash with players who hit a ball against a wall with their hands usually while wearing a special glove. The scoring is similar to volleyball. Players need a court shoe which supports rapid, secure and stable movement. Many handball players wear squash shoes. At Beijing adidas introduced the Stabil which had a carbon composite material in the logo trefoil to give the shoe added lateral support plus the adidas Stabil encases a supportive foot orthosis.

Hockey players use soccer style shoes but more cleats. Depending on playing surfaces they may have as many as 60 moulded cleats on each sole for synthetic pitches. Goalkeepers are the only players permitted to touch the ball with their feet and wear 'kickers' or over-shoes. These have protective padding to protect the feet. A water resistant shoe is preferred when the game is played on a water-based surface. Hockey shoes are lightweight, with moulded EVA midsoles, which are integrated into the upper for maximum support and fit. Outsoles vary depending on whether the player is on synthetic surfaces, such as astro or turf. The uppers are made from lightweight synthetic mesh materials with shoe liners designed to distribute pressure over the foot surface and give stability and shock absorption. Some hockey shoes offer a combination of studs and blades for forward and lateral traction and thermal injected hell counters for added lateral stability. A reinforced toe box with scuff guard is preferred and padded tongue aids fit and comfort.

Although competition is in bare foot some people wear foot protectors in the form of padded slip over shoes to protect the fighter when delivering kicks to an opponent.

Kayaker’s feet rest on pegs inside the kayak braced against the sides of the hull for stability and balance. Most kayakers compete barefoot but Nike produced lightweight shoes for protection and traction. The Nike Grigoros were made from one piece of sticky rubber compound (recycled) and slip easily over the foot. There is a web and lug pattern on the sole for grip in the boat and on the dock while channels in between allow for water drainage. The anatomical, split-toe design provides natural movement of the foot on the boat’s pegs.

Rowing shoes have a uniform 4-screw foot stretcher fitting, which enables them to be rapidly interchanged within or between boats to accommodate changes in crews. Shoes for rowing are purpose-made with Velcro safety release closures and safety laces to Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’AvironFISA standard. Quick release fittings are also available.

Marksman like archers need to be stable and balanced. The Nike Simadi is built on a carbon fibre plate that is both lightweight and stiff. To prevent foot slippage, a high-traction rubber compound is integrated into the outsole, providing grip on the hardwood floors of the range. The stiff, synthetic upper with a moulded heel cup and midfoot panel helps keep the athlete’s foot firmly in place inside the shoe. The Nike Simadi Mid rifle shoe has ankle support to help lock down the shooter’s stance. The square toe of the Nike Simadi Mid was designed to accommodate and stabilize the toe-to-floor contact point of the foot in laying and kneeling positions. In the rifle shoe only, the carbon plate in the sole has been truncated to allow slight flex for floor positions.

Japanese Getas (platform thongs) set the fashion world abuzz in the '56 Melbourne Olympics and re-launched the Australasian pre-occupation with thong sandals. After the Second World War, Diggers brought back Japanese and Philippino thongs as Wartime souvenirs. Once plastic flip-flops became available then the footwear was instantly adopted as national dress in the Big Brown Land and Land of the Silver Cloud. US Swimmer, Mark Spitz , was not the first but certainly went barefoot to the winner's platform. He was carrying his adidas shoes by his side. This was taken at the time as blatant marketing and an affront to Olympic amateurism. The Russians complained.

In 1896 the first Olympic tennis champion was an Irishman called John Pius Boland. He set out for Athens as a tourist, never guessing that by the time he returned to British shores he would have been crowned one of the first, and most unlikely, Olympic champions. A close friend had been appointed secretary of the first organising committee and entered Boland into the tennis competition. Fortunately the Irishman was a good player but had no equipment, clothing or footwear for sporting pursuits. Wearing leather-soled shoes with a heel and wielding a borrowed racket, he cut down all opposition before overcoming Egyptian, Dionysios Kasdaglis in the final of the inaugural tennis event. Before and after the Second World War, Australian, Adrian Quist (doubles tennis champion) perfected the court shoe which would become the forefather of all trainers, and grand great father of Sk8er's shoes. In the 50s, 'Tappy' Larsen got his name because of his habit of tapping the court with his foot and racket. The left handed champion had an intricate tapping ritual before serving. The novelty took the attention of the crowd he then referred to him as 'Tappy' Larson. Tennis was reinstated as an Olympic event in 1988.

Taekwondo footwear was designed to protect the feet of athletes whose performance may be compromised by injuries in earlier rounds. The design allows for maximum movement while protecting the foot and ankle. To aid judging the protective cushioning material on the footgear makes a loud 'clicking' sound upon impact with an opponent.

Weight lifting
In the beginning of the modern sport, competitors wore what they could including, combat boots, hi-top Chuck Taylor's, and even patent leather oxfords. As the sport progressed and became more popular a new range of footwear evolved. Shoes required to fit snugly giving both stability and support to the feet. The soles of the weightlifters shoes had to be non-compressible negating the use of trainers and have a wedged heel with suitable sole traction to grip the ground. To accommodate different foot widths the new shoes laced all the way down to the toe and had an adjustable strap across the metatarsal area for added lateral stability. Free weight lifters prefer high topped shoes for added ankle stability but weightlifters need flexible ankle movement and cannot have the shoe come up too high on the ankle. Bucking the popular trend for lightweight footwear, weightlifters, shoes are heavier than most sports shoes because of the increased mass they need to support. The athlete needs to move the bar by placing all their force beneath the weight to be lifted and this requires a stable stance position. A clean lift necessitates the knees stay apart and sometimes wedged heels are worn. Weightlifters shoes need to withstand up to 1,000 pounds and are often made with either wooden soles or a piece of wood in the heel to help the lifter secure their stance. Heel height (1 inch to 1¼ inch )is important and the higher the height of the heel the more the foot angles helping the lifter to maintain a more upright posture. For balance the needs to be flexible to allow the knees to go over the toes. Dubbed Romaleos, Nike released the Nike Air Rejuven8, this is a shoe with contoured wedged heel and according to the manufacturer consists of midsole containing a system of trusses and bridges for strength. Rivals adidas introduced the adiStar Weightlifting Shoe 08 with a lightweight arch support and foot stabiliser. The shoes feature ClimaCool and TORSION SYSTEM and midfoot strap gives optimum pressure distribution and maximum support. Recovery shoes are non competitive footwear intended to be worn on the medals stand.

Wrestlers require a high co-efficient of friction (Fc) between their boots and mat. Too much has the potential to increase the risk of knee and ankle injuries by fixing the foot too securely to the ground. Boots are worn high above the ankle. Nike introduced the Inflict II Men's Wrestling Shoe which is a lightweight, flexible wrestling shoe with a gum rubber outsole for excellent traction on wet and dry mats. The breathable mesh upper moves and flexes with the foot and there is lace pocket to keep lace ends tied and covered.

The Chinese martial art of Wushu is an exhibition sport this year. Nike’s Shaolinquan (Mandarin for martial arts) has a leather upper, a gum-rubber outsole and a pocket where athletes can tuck laces with a smaller, more culturally sensitive Swoosh.

1 comment:

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