Sneakers That Transcended Their Olympic Origins
The Olympic Games have understandably produced some of greatest moments in sporting history, but these landmark moments aren’t just reserved for the athletes. For decades, sneaker brands have used the Games to debut their latest performance footwear on the world’s most talented feet.
The ever-evolving nature of sneaker design means some of these creations are condemned to be superseded by future innovations. However, a number of these peak performers from the past continue to dominate the scene today.
Continually finding their way onto the podium – and our feet – these are some of the sneakers that have transcended their Olympic origin stories.
Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66
The official sneaker of the Japanese delegation to the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, the Mexico 66, as its name suggests, actually made its debut at the trails for said Games two years prior. An evolution of Onitsuka Tiger’s game-changing LIMBUR design, the Mexico 66 was a winner – literally – with Japan bringing home a strong total of 11 gold medals, seven silver, and seven bronze.
The first sneaker to wear the ASICS stripe on its side, the Mexico 66 remains a casual staple to this day, ubiquitously available in its familiar white/blue colourway.
Before its release at the 1972 Olympic Games, the Cortez was actually designed under the Onitsuka Tiger label by none other than the famed Bill Bowerman, who was the technical advisor at Blue Ribbon Sports (who had exclusive rights for Onitsuka Tiger) prior to his more storied time at Nike. Eventually, Onitsuka and Blue Ribbon Sports’ relationship began to sour, influencing Nike founder Phil Knight and Bowerman to develop their own line of sneakers – the ones with the famed Swoosh. The Cortez was one of these sneakers, and was identical to the Onitsuka Tiger version, aside from the now-iconic branding.
After a bit of back and forth between both brands, a court later ruled that both Onitsuka and Nike could sell the Cortez. Nike retained the OG name, while Tiger dubbed their version the ‘Corsair’.
adidas LA Trainer
Making its debut on the track at Los Angeles in 1984, the adidas LA Trainer arrived during a transitional time for athletic footwear. Undoubtedly one of the stars of the track-to-terrace cultural shift, the sneaker was also revolutionary in terms of its tech. Equipped with a unique shock absorption system, the sneaker made use of three rods – commonly referred to as ‘pegs’ – in the sole unit. Designed to provide added stability, support and comfort, the pegs also allowed athletes to finely tune the shock-absorption to their own preference.
This absorption sole system went on to feature in other Three Stripes classic like the Kegler Super and the Grand Slam, all of which regularly feature as part of the brand’s re-issue roster.
Nike Air Presto
When Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame to kick-off Sydney 2000, the Nike Air Presto also lit a flame in sneakerheads’ hearts. The original Air Presto was marketed as the ‘t-shirt for your feet’, introducing a sock-like construction, which lived up to its looks with supreme comfort. Rather than traditional sizing, the Presto was sold in S, M, L and XL sizes, simplifying the process of choosing a size. It also paved the way for other offerings that felt like ‘nothing at all’, namely the Free running range.
To this day, the Air Presto remains a staple in the Swoosh lineup, carrying the same neoprene mesh upper, lightweight Phylon midsole, and cushioned Duralon outsole that Cathy wore back in ‘Syd-en-knee’.
After Team USA underperformed their way to a basketball bronze in 2004, it was always going to be bad news for the competition once Beijing 2008 rolled around. Out for revenge, many of the team’s stars wore Nike’s latest basketball model, the Hyperdunk, on their way to gold. The first basketball sneaker to feature Flywire tech, the high-cut silhouette went on to become one of the most ubiquitous models in the NBA for years to come, with updated versions continuing the hyper-popularity.
And, of course, it was the Hyperdunk which the late Kobe Bryant wore in his famed Aston Martin jump commercial. RIP, Mamba!
Nike Flyknit Racer
Flyknit will undoubtedly go down as one of Nike’s greatest innovations. Based on a similar cable-system premise to the aforementioned Flywire, the knitted upper material was introduced via the iconic Flyknit Racer ahead of London 2012, and has since become a staple material among just about every sport the Swoosh finds itself in.
Weighing around 160 grams, the Racer was approximately 19 per cent lighter than previous marathon-running shoes Nike had been producing. Aside from the performance perks, it was super comfy, paving the way for a legion of fans beyond the track.
It’s believed 400 competing athletes laced up Flyknits in London, and the Racer and its follow-ups have bounded their way into countless rotations across the globe since.