Over the next couple days, you’re simply going to be inundated with all things Olympics. From cheesy TV features on athletes you’ve never heard of, to learning fun facts about London you couldn’t care less about, and seeing entirely too much of Bob Costas in HD, there really is nothing quite like the Olympics Games.
However, what you might not be thinking about is the gear that these athletes will be wearing when they compete in London. Then again, why would you?
Only it is important. After all, these athletes train four long years to compete at the highest level in the world for these three weeks, and the difference between the ultimate prize (an Olympic gold) and everything else can come down to simple tenths of a second. So why wouldn’t they want every competitive advantage they get? And why wouldn’t one of those advantages include the gear they were on their bodies?
Either way earlier this week I had a chance to speak with Caitlin Albaugh of Adidas to discuss a little bit about their products and what the 3,000 athletes they represent will be wearing this coming month in London. She described the history of the company with the Games, what goes into product design and what separates Adidas gear from everyone else’s.
It turned into a fascinating back and forth.
Q. The first, and most obvious question is this: How proud is Adidas to be the Official Sportswear sponsor of the 2012 Olympics? How did this partnership come about, and what exactly does it entail?
A. The Olympic Games have been a platform for Adidas’ ongoing technical innovations for the past 80 years. Adidas’ goal is to provide every athlete with the best possible equipment to perform better. The huge potential to touch consumers through our athletes and their shared passion for sport and their country is one reason we have partnered with London 2012.
We’re outfitting 11 federations at the Games and more than 3,000 athletes will train and compete in Adidas gear. As Official Sportswear Partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Adidas will also supply 85,000 volunteers, Olympic torch bearers and officials with about two million pieces of apparel.
Adidas’ Olympic tradition dates back to 1928 when Adidas founder Adi Dassler created his first track spike for athletes in the Amsterdam Games. Since then, Adidas remains closely linked with the Games, boasting a roster of legendary athletes such as Jesse Owens, Nadia Comaneci and Haile Gebrselassie, all of whom marked milestones in Olympic history wearing Adidas.
Q. Overall, how many athletes, from how many countries will Adidas be working with this summer?
A. Again, more than 3,000 athletes, including teams from 11 countries, will train and compete in Adidas in the London 2012 Olympic Games. The sponsored nations include Great Britain, France, Germany, Cuba, Belgium, Australia, Ethiopia, Trinidad & Tobago, Hungary, Greece, and the Bahamas.
Q. In regards to your products, what goes into the process of designing a sports specific shoe? From say, the first meeting until the shoe hits stores, how much time does that take? How many tweaks and adjustments are made to the shoes over that time-frame?
A. It varies by shoe and by sport. For example, the adizero Prime SP, one of the lightest track spikes ever made, was developed in 34 months in 15 cities and 32 countries.
Q. Wow, I had no idea it took that long. Along the same lines, how much input do athletes have on the shoes specific to their sport? Is there anyone better to judge the comfort and performance of your products than the folks who are wearing them?
A. Athletes give a lot of input. Again, as an example, the adizero Prime SP was developed with two universities and the involvement of thousands of people including American sprinter Tyson Gay and British heptathlete Jessica Ennis.
Q. One of the big benefits draws to Adidas products over their competitors is that for many sports Adidas has the “lightest” sneakers on the market (I have a pair of the AdiZero basketball sneakers and can certainly attest to that!). What is the technology that ensures that these are the lightest sneakers available, and what kind of competitive advantage does that give athletes wearing your products as opposed to those of any of your competitors?
A. Adizero shoes, like the adizero Prime SP (sprint spike) and adizero Feather 2 (running shoe) are among the lightest in sports designed to help athletes be lighter and faster to compete at the highest level. Lightweight delivers the ultimate competitive advantage to the fastest and most dominants athletes in the world.
Every ounce of adizero shoes have been scrutinized, researched and tested to bring athletes lightweight shoes. Material and technical innovations allow the Adidas innovation team to create lighter, high-performing footwear without sacrificing structural integrity. Core to adizero design are two primary innovations:
A. SprintWeb construction in the upper minimizes layers without sacrificing fit or durability.
B. SprintFrame provides maximum stability for added strength and support.
The Adidas design and innovation team began developing adizero in 2003 as a design philosophy to revolutionize lightweight footwear and help athletes be faster. The idea: less mass allows athletes to accelerate faster and change directions more quickly. Initially adizero was developed for running shoes, but Adidas evolved the technology, applying the same adizero concept to basketball, soccer, football and
Q. I notice that there are different kinds of shoes not only for different sports, but- especially in the world of track- multiple shoes for the same sport as well.
A. What is the difference in technology between say, a sneaker designed for a high jumper versus what’s designed for a long jumper?
We have two high jump shoes in the 2012 line:
• HJ STABILITY: The shoe is for our athletes who need a stable shoe that guides their foot through foot strike and take off.
• HJ FLOW: We noticed in 2008 that many of the jumpers needed a shoe that allowed them to pronate through foot strike. The adizero HJ Flow increases lift and acceleration. The HJ Flow is designed for athletes who prefer a natural feel so their feet and ankles are able to flex during take-off.
Also, there is a cylindrical compression pin which improves energy return and increases acceleration. This is a completely new shoe to Adidas track and field range and caters to the increasing number of jumpers looking for less guidance and more natural movement from their foot and ankle joints. We extensively tested a number of prototypes using the latest in high speed filming technology until we came to the final product.
Adizero LJ 2 for Long Jump: The adizero LJ 2 is designed to give athletes greater speed. Mesh in the back of the foot provides comfort and breathability and an ultra-high rebound adiPrene+ construction ensures maximum acceleration.
In addition, a little back story: During the development testing we found that long jumpers are essentially sprinters before they jump. We created a new last that follows the forefoot characteristics of our sprint last with the heel geometry of the middle distance last. This keeps the athlete on the forefoot and significantly improves the transition between running and jumping, resulting in more distance off the board.
Q. This is a very specific question, but I see that some of your soccer cleats allow for technology that helps with “ball control.” Can you explain the technology behind that at all?
A. There are five lethal zones: First Touch, Dribble, Sweet Spot, Drive and Pass. Each zone is composed of super-light rubber and memory foam with 3-D print strategically placed on the Predator upper to help provide improved ball control, handling and feel for increased precision and accuracy with every touch
The First Touch zone on the forefoot features recessed ribs to cushion and slow the ball on contact for instant control
The Dribble zone on the lateral side uses precisely spaced out rubber ribs to ensure optimum grip during high-speed dribbling and a large number of quick ball contacts
The Sweet Spot zone’s raised ribs on the medial side generate greater speed and spin for powerful shots and drives to the net
The Drive zone’s raised and thicker 3-D shape follows the natural shape of the instep to create a rebound effect making each pass travel further creating more space on the field
The Pass zone along the instep features a 3-D sticky print to provide more contact time between the ball and the foot for more precise passes and consistent kicks
Q. Adidas seems to literally make sneakers for every sport known to man. This might sound like a dumb question (and I apologize if it is), but does the same amount of time and resources go into the manufacturing of a shoe that has broad appeal for all (like say a basketball shoe) versus a shoe that is for much more of a niche sport (like say badminton?).
A. Adidas creates the best possible equipment in every sport to help athletes perform better.
Caitlin, thank you so much for the time and good luck to all your athletes in London!
For all information on Aaron’s Q&A’s, be sure to follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.