The Sneaker Wars were in full force at Mexico City, where cash was handed out to athletes in exchange for wearing Adidas or Pumas. This quid pro quo was a considerably open secret in 1968.
But in 1964, getting cash for wearing sneakers was only for the privileged few. Bob Hayes, soon-to-be-crowned “fastest man in the world”, was one of the privileged few. In fact, in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, Hayes admitted that he had taken some $40,000 in under-the-table payments in his “amateur” track career.
Since knowledge of these payments would jeopardize Hayes’ amateur status, and thus his eligibility for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he could not openly flaunt his cash, or make expensive purchases. And while Hayes could have paid for a trip to Japan for his mother, Mary, so that she could watch her son win a gold medal, he didn’t, to avoid any inconvenient questioning. So he was grateful that his community of Jacksonville took up a money drive to pay for his mother’s trip to Japan.
The last person to be crowned “fastest man in the world” at the Olympics was Armin Hary. Hary was German and thus was the first non-American since 1932 to win Olympic gold in the 100 meters. Hary had retired from track and was working for Puma during the Tokyo Olympics. His job was to convince Hayes to wear Puma cleats in his 100-meter races. Here’s how Hayes’ describes their exchange in Tokyo:
“You’ve come to the right place, Bobby. Run in my shoe, and I’ll make it worth your while.”
“What do you mean, Armin?”
”I’ll pay you two thousand dollars in American money to wear Puma when you run.”
“Even if I lose?”
“There’s no way you’re going to lose, Bobby. I’m not sorry I’m hurt, so I won’t have to run against you. Nobody can beat the great Bob Hayes.”
“Thank you, Armin. Let me think it over.”
The story of Puma is intertwined with the story of Adidas – the two companies headed by brothers: Adolph and Rudolph Dassler. And the rivalry between the two brothers, and thus the two companies, was famously fierce.
Adolph Dassler’s son, Horst, was in Tokyo as well, hoping to ensure Hayes wore Adidas track shoes. And when he learned that Hayes had already talked with Hary and Puma, Horst immediately put in his bid, telling Hayes that $2,000 was an insult. Horst offered $3,000. And for the next few days, Armin Hary and Horst Dassler upped the bids.
Hayes knew he was in a bidding war, and started making suggestions himself: tailor-made handmade silk suits, and cash for the women’s 4×100 relay team. In the end, Adidas had a bottomless wallet. Hayes received $7,800 in cash and another $1,100 to buy 11 suits, as well as $400 for each of the women on the relay team.
“All that was for wearing the shoes I had been planning to run in all along,” wrote Hayes.
On top of the two gold medals, the nearly 10k in cash and kind, Hayes’ mother made out like a bandit.
“She came back to the United States loaded down with televisions, watches, and all sorts of clothing that people gave her in Tokyo. When her son won the gold medal, my mother became the first lady of track and field.”