Blue Ribbon Sports ad marketing Onitsuka Tiger sneakers

It’s the end of 1969. Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) is selling Tigers well enough that he, the CEO, Phil Knight, decides to finally become a full-time employee of his own company. BRS has had a fruitful relationship with Japanese sneaker manufacturer, Onitsuka Tiger. The shoe that BRS co-founder, Bill Bowerman, designed – The Cortez – became a dominant running shoe in the run-up to the 1972 Munich Olympics, taking advantage of a running and jogging boom in America.

In the last month of the last year of the tumultuous 1960s, Knight makes his annual trip to Kobe, Japan, to meet the founder and head of Onitsuka Tiger, and later the global brand Asics, Kihachiro Onitsuka. They renew their vows by signing a three-year contract, giving Blue Ribbon Sports rights to market Onitsuka Tigers in the United States, with the condition that BRS sells Tigers exclusively.

The problem for BRS – while they enjoyed the success of selling Tiger shoes, they realized that their contract limited their business range to distributorship, and thus created an increasingly uncomfortable level of dependency on a single manufacturer of sneakers.

The problem for Onitsuka – while they were able to breach the huge American market via BRS, they realized that every year they continued to market in the US through this relatively small and inexperienced player, they were likely leaving millions of dollars on the table unless they expanded the number of distributors in the American market.

Onitsuka was apparently hearing from other American shoe distributors that the potential for US growth was huge, so he realized he had to push harder into the international markets, particularly the US. With that understanding, he hired an aggressive international sales director, Shoji Kitami, to realize his “Onitsuka of the World” strategy, according to Kenny Moore, author of the book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. So despite the three-year agreement of exclusivity, midway through, Kitami met with as many as 18 other shoe distributors in America.Bill Bowerman and the Boys of Oregon cover

Knight was concerned that Kitami’s actions were going to lead to a contractual dispute, but Kitami viewed the exclusive nature of their agreement as shackles. Acoording to Moore, as discussions between Knight and Kitami became more contentious, Kitami suggested that Onitsuka Tiger and Blue Ribbon Sports form a joint venture, with Onitsuka holding a 51-percent share of the company.

This was a moment of truth. According to Moore, “the choice was between surrendering the company to Onitsuka or making their own shoes.” And when they thought about it, they were liking less and less their submissive role as middle man. Bowerman had designed a successful shoe – the Cortez – that they could not get manufactured by other companies. And ironically, while Kitani was saying that they need to expand the number of distributors in American to sell more shoes, Knight and Bowerman would scratch their heads since Onitsuka was regularly guilty of not manufacturing sneakers fast enough to meet demand. BRS would put in an order and Onitsuka would routinely export fewer shoes than ordered. How were they going to meet the other distributors’ demands if they couldn’t even meet the demands of their sole distributor?

Knight and Bowerman realized they needed to prepare for a break up with Onitsuka. Soliciting the help of a large Japanese trading company – Nissho Iwai – BRS were able to find another shoe manufacturer as well as secure financing for the initial manufacture of new BRS branded shoes, including 6,000 pairs of The Cortez, which Kihachiro Onitsuka believed to be their own design. This was the chance they needed.

As Moore quoted Knight as saying, “we have them right where we want them. Onitsuka is too slow to react to product development ideas we give them. They never ship what we order. And they’d probably yank the distributorship at the end of the contract in 1972 anyway. What we need is a brand we can control, because we have everything else, the shoes, the top runners. This is the best thing that could ever happen to us.”

Original 1971 Swoosh Design Nike

The logo design was set to grace the new sneaker. Barbara Smit claims in her book, Sneaker Wars, that a design student was paid $35 when he presented the “inverted comma” design, which later was dubbed, The Swoosh. Knight wanted to call the new brand, Dimension 6. As the deadline for producing the sneaker boxes approached, they still did not have a brand name, other than Dimension 6. That is until Jeff Johnson, Nike’s first full-time employee, woke up with an image of Greek goddess of victory in his head. So with a little forceful nudging under the gun of a production deadline, Knight reluctantly agreed to the name, Nike. After all, it was a short name, one that easily fit on a shoe box.

So in the winter of 1971, the Nike brand was born.

Kevin Synder's gold medal
This photo provided by Kevin Snyder show Kyle Snyder’s damaged gold metal from the 2016 Rio Olympics on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Maryland.

The candidate team that submitted Rio’s bid for the 2016 Olympics were praised for their emphasis on sustainability – how they would revitalize their down-and-out urban areas, clean up their polluted waters, and build needed public transportation systems. They even promised to use recycled metals to build the gold, silver and bronze Olympic and Paralympic medals.

Unfortunately, many of those promises to make 2016 the Sustainability Olympics have not been kept. And as for the medals from the Rio Olympics, well, they are proving to be not so sustainable.

As I wrote in an August 2016 post, the medals were formed with mercury-free gold, and recycled silver and bronze. Even the ribbons were produced from recycled plastic bottles. According to this article, the medal manufacturer employed 80 people to handcraft the medals, who spent 48 hours making each one.

Unfortunately, recipients of the medals have begun to understand that all that gold does not glitter. You can see American wrestler Kevin Snyder‘s gold medal in the picture, which has a commonly reported issue – flaking and discoloring of the medal’s varnish. Apparently when a medal is dropped or rubbed up against other objects, the surface has been known to flake, particularly the silver medals. It has also been reported that the cover of medals have fallen off, but I am yet to see photographic evidence of that.

A spokesman for Rio2016 has explained that, perhaps, the medals were built for Brazilian heat. “We’re seeing problems with the covering on between six or seven percent of the medals, and it seems to be to do with the difference in temperatures,” Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said, according to this NBC Sports report.

The good thing is that the medal factory is back in business as the Rio2016 organizers are promising to replace the medals. But American Kerri Walsh-Jennings, who won bronze in beach volleyball to complement her three golds from previous Olympics, has grown attached to her flaking bronze medal.

“They’ve offered to replace them. I’m not sure if I want to swap it out,” Walsh-Jennings told The Associated Press, adding the reason was “100 per cent sentimental.”

Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
The Olympians has been a labor of love for exactly two years. It is my sketchbook as I prepare for the mural masterpiece, a book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

While my book’s focus is on the XVIII Tokyo Olympiad, I use my blog as an excuse to write about anything even remotely related to these areas: the Tokyo Olympics, the Olympics overall, Japan, and sports in general. In other words, I think of my blog as therapy for a restlessly curious mind.

How else could I go 730 straight days without missing a post?

Enjoy!

Japan 1964

 

Tokyo 2020

 

Random Rambles

Roy's 2nd Birthday
Roy’s 2nd Birthday
It’s been exactly two years since I started my journey to understand the context, the organization and the stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. My father was at those games as a news producer for NBC, and I turned one years old on Opening Day.

I moved to Tokyo for a third time in January, 2014, excited by Tokyo’s selection as the host city for the 2020 Summer Games. Surprised to find not a single book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in English, I endeavored to write the definitive record. On May 1, 2015, I started my blog, The Olympians is in many ways, the first draft of my book.

All, thank you for your wonderful comments and support!

 

Olympians 1964

 

Amazing Olympians

Pyeongchang NBC logo

We live in a 24/7 always on world. When NBC delayed broadcast of premier sporting events at the Rio Olympics, so that they could present them during prime time in the evenings, their strategy backfired for many. After all, in today’s world, people can learn of the results instantly.

NBC recently announced that for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018, all broadcasts will be live, no matter the time in the US.

“That means social media won’t be ahead of the action in any time zone, and as a result, none of our viewers will have to wait for anything,” Jim Bell, president for NBC Olympics production and programming, said in a statement. “This is exciting news for the audience, the advertisers and our affiliates alike.”

Since South Korea will be 14 hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, if an ice hockey match starts at 8pm in Korea, then New Yorkers can watch it real time, but they’ll have to be up at 6 am to do so. Of course, if you’re a big hockey fan, trying to avoid hearing the score for another 12 hours before watching it prime time would be a pain in the neck, if not impossible.

This may actually be ho hum news for most people.

But in 1964, the prospect of broadcasting the Tokyo Olympics live to other continents was an exciting thought.

NHK camerman 1964 Tokyo Olympics
NHK camerman at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
Live broadcasts in 1964 were not new. The 1936 Berlin Olympics were shown live on German television. The 1960 Rome Olympics were the first to be broadcast live across Europe. But, according to John Slater of Western Carolina University, Japan wanted the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to be the first broadcast live to another continent.

Slater wrote in this abstract that members of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee wanted the Tokyo Games to be known as the Technology Games. And so they contacted the American government in Washington D. C. if they would be willing to adapt American communication satellites designed for telephone communications to relay television signals. American officials also thought it would be very cool to be the first Games to broadcast signals literally across the globe.

NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporate, built a transmitter in Japan, and the US Navy made modifications to a communications facility in California, and NASA which operated the satellite Syncom II, moved its orbiting location from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And when they tested the ability to send visual and audio television signals from Japan to North America real time, it worked! But as Slater wrote, NBC, which owned the broadcast rights in the United States, got very defensive.

The U.S. Department of State coordinated the use of the necessary radio frequencies. The system worked, and the Communication Satellite Corporation offered to make satellite time available. Both CBC and the European Broadcasting Union signed up for an hour a day, at a cost of U.S. $150 a minute.

But NBC chose to protect its investment in exclusivity. It got hung up on NASA’s policy that programs sent via experimental satellites should be made freely available to all competing media. In the end, only the opening ceremonies were televised live in the United States, and then only in the East. During the competition itself, U.S. viewers had to wait to see next-day videotapes of the Games, while viewers in Canada and Europe got the full benefit of live coverage. The Canadians had embraced the new technology, while the U.S. broadcasters tried to fend it off as a threat to their commercial interests.

NBC got an earful for promising live broadcasts, but actually providing tape-delayed shows in the evenings.

But that was 1964. Today, on the eve of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, NBC will be giving sports fans immediate gratification.

Matthew Mitcham
Matthew Mitcham

All of the rows on either side of me faded to nothing. And all sounds completely dissipated. All that I could hear was the sound of the spray trickling onto the water. Time slowed down and it was just me and the dive.

Matthew Mitcham, with his back to the water atop the 10-meter platform, exhaled, and lept into the void. The Australian then executed a two and a half somersault with two and a half twists in the pike position, and nailed it. Liang Huo of China, who was in first up to the last dive, climbed the platform to execute the same dive, and was unable to deliver the precision of Mitcham. Huo fell to fourth, and Mitcham, to his wonder and surprise, took the gold medal. In fact, at these 2008 Beijing Olympics, Mitcham was the only non-Chinese to win gold in the 8 men’s and women’s diving competitions.

Mitcham won because he was able to execute a dive of the highest difficulty at the time. FINA judges rated Mitcham’s and Huo’s attempt at 3.8 degree of difficulty (D.D.). But as is true in sports that employ D.D. in their judging, like figure skating or aerial skiing, the bar will continue to rise. At the Beijing Olympics, you had to have a D.D. of well over 3. Today, it needs to be over 4.0. In fact, FINA has identified 13 dives that have a difficulty of over 4, compared to over 10 years ago when it was only 2.

So where are divers and coaches getting insight into new ways to twist and tumble to greater dives? That’s right – mathematicians.

This article from MIT’s Technology Review cites the research of William Tong and Holger Dullin of the University of Sydney in Australia in explaining how to design even more complex dives, ones that would not necessarily come intuitively to the most advanced divers. How did they do it? Here’s how Tong explains it on his University of Sydney site:

My doctoral thesis focused on optimal shape change control and achieved three primary goals: using the geometric phase to improve planar somersault performance, developing the mathematical framework to describe the twisting somersault, and innovating new dive sequences yet to be performed by real world athletes.

No, I can’t quite fathom that either. So the Technology Review article dumbs it down for us by explaining that Tong and Dullin have created a mathematical model for how a human body twists and turns in the air, with the expectation that they can propose new sequence of movements to increase the speed of these movements. Increasing speed is essential for the simple reason that the law of physics limits the time one can stay in the air after leaping off a ten-meter platform or a three-meter springboard – 1.43 seconds in a freefall to be precise. The diver can currently increase that to 1.6 seconds with his body movement.

Tong and Dunn have designed a dive that includes five twists and 1 1/2 somersaults that would take 1.8 seconds, based on their mathematical model, “assuming the diver generates only moderate levels of angular momentum during takeoff.”

This is longer than divers have in the air. But the pair say that there are various ways to make gains. An obvious way is to increase the amount of angular momentum during takeoff. Also, the diver spends a significant amount of time—0.4 seconds—with arms and legs stretched out to achieve the full 1½ somersaults. This could be reduced by taking a tucked or piked position (although their model is as yet unable to incorporate these positions).

This dive, labeled the 513XD dive, has never been executed. But the researchers say it is a matter of time. “By simulating the 513XD dive we hope to provide coaches and athletes with insight and motivation so that the dive may one day be executed in competition.”

wilson-kipsang-tokyo-marathon
Wilson Kipsang wins the Tokyo Marathon

Wilson Kipsang won the Tokyo Marathon on March 1 with the time of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 58 seconds. The Kenyan broke the Japan record for the race, but did not beat his personal best of 2:03:23, which was a world record he set at the 2013 Berlin Marathon. Nor did he best the current world record of 2:02:57, currently held by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto.

Kipsang, enjoying the cool temperatures of Tokyo, thought he could take back the world record. But he likely did not believe he had a chance at running under 2 hours. Getting to 1:59:59 is the holy grail of long-distance running. According to this in-depth look from the New York Times at “Sub2”, as this quest is called, a researcher from the Mayo Clinic thinks that breaking the 2-hour barrier won’t happen for another 10 to 25 years, and a three-time Olympian from Ethiopia, Bekele, says “I can’t say it’s possible.” As the article explains, “Could the body have enough carbohydrate fuel to run that far, that fast? Would the brain slow the legs for self-preservation?”

A 1:59:59 marathon would require a searing pace of 4 minutes 34 seconds per mile, seven seconds faster than the pace of the current world record. It would require 85 to 90 percent of a runner’s maximum aerobic capacity — twice the capacity of an average man — and a sustained heart rate of about 160 to 170 beats per minute. (The typical resting rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute.)

It is beginning to feel a bit like Zeno’s Paradox, that no matter how close you get to your target, you may never reach it. Could the 2-hour marathon be a bridge too far? Sports scientist and anti-doping expert in the IOC, Yannis Pitsiladis, believes that a Sub2 marathon is possible. “What excites me is understanding the limits of human performance. What can man do?”

yannis-pitsiladis

Pitsiladis believes we’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding the science of endurance running. Incremental gains in the disciplines of nutrition, biomechanics, genetics, running efficiency, training, race strategy, sports medicine, as well as data analytics could get runners to the tipping point of dramatic advances in long-distance running. “We know nothing about the science of training,” Pitsiladis said. “I really mean nothing. When I say that, people get really upset.”

Here are a few of the non-conventional ideas of Pitsiladis from that New York Times article:

  • How Many Miles: Many elite marathoners, for instance, run about 120 miles a week in training. But there was little science to support that regimen, Pitsiladis said. Perhaps 75 miles a week would work just as well for many runners — or maybe any reasonable training program would.
  • Live High Train High? A popular training method is known as “live high, train low.” By living at a higher altitude, athletes stimulate the production of red blood cells to compensate for the lower level of oxygen in the air. By training at or near sea level, they are able to maintain the intensity of their workouts because more oxygen is available. Live high, train low is supported by some evidence. But Pitsiladis is not fully convinced of its efficacy, saying, “I would bet you it’s wrong and that what’s better is live high and train higher,” as perhaps the two greatest distance runners in history — Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia — often did.
  • Be a Glutton for Glucose: Pitsiladis had come to believe that a two-hour marathon might be best achieved by bombarding the system with glucose.For instance, Owen Anderson, a consultant to the Sub2 Project who coached elite Kenyan road runners in Michigan, gave his athletes eight to 10 ounces of a sports drink about 10 minutes before a race to get accustomed to a bloated feeling. (They drank more during competition.)
  • Run the Second Half Faster: Against convention, Pitsiladis theorized that the second half of a two-hour marathon would be run faster, not slower, than the first half. As runners burn fuel and become lighter during a race, he said, they should become more economical, needing less oxygen to maintain a certain speed.
  • Squeeze Don’t Twist: When runners drank, Pitsiladis believed, they could shave precious seconds by squeezing fluid from a bag instead of opening a bottle, as elite runners do on the course.
  • Rinse Don’t Drink: And perhaps, he said, they needed to drink little or nothing in the second half of a two-hour marathon. Instead, they might rinse their mouths with a carbohydrate solution and spit it out. Research showed the brain could be tricked into believing that more carbs were on the way, thus inducing the muscles to work harder.