Armin Hary and Horst Dassler
Armin Hary and Horst Dassler

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.

Bob Hayes_Bi to Chikara 2
Bob Hayes and his mother, Mary, from the book Bi to Chikara

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.”

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bob-beamon-leaping-in-adidas-shoes

The 1960s was a period of intense competition between Puma and adidas, fueled by the sibling rivalry of the two brothers who ran the respective companies, Rudolph Dassler and Adolph (Adi) Dassler. The more images of champion athletes wearing their shoes appeared in the media, the more revenue poured in. And the easiest way to get superstar athletes to wear their shoes were cash payments of thousands of dollars.

At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Armin Hary of Germany set the Olympic record in the 100 meters in Pumas, after having worn adidas in previous heats. On the podium, Hary switched back to Adidas.

Bob Beamon shocked himself and the world when he lept 8.90 meters (29 ft 2.5 in) at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. That was 55 cm (nearly 22 inches) better than the previous world record.

My assumption today is that high performance athletes are particularly fussy about their foot gear. According to the book Golden Kicks: The Shoes that Changed Sport, by Jason Coles, Beamon had always trained and competed in adidas shoes. But Mexico City during the Olympics was a fierce battle ground between Puma and Adidas.

Track groupie, Art Simburg, buddies to the Speed City sprinters of San Jose State College, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, was also a sweet-talking marketer for Puma. Simburg was able to “convince” many athletes to switch to Pumas in Mexico City, including Beamon.

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So when Beamon made the long jump finals, prior to that massive jump, he did so in Pumas.

But in a switch that was becoming less and less uncommon, Beamon slipped on a pair of adidas shoes, and launched himself into the history books with a record leap that stood for 23 years. And the shoes that shine in all of those pictures of Beamon’s gigantic jump – the one with the three red stripes of adidas.

Bolt in ANA commercial
Usain Bolt in first ANA commercial

World’s Fastest Man and two-time Olympic champion in the hundred meters, Usain Bolt earned $15,000 in track competitions in 2015, according to Forbes. But in terms of endorsements, the sprinter from Jamaica pulled in a cool $21 million.

Puma alone invests $9 million a year lacing Bolt up. Rio, more gold and deeper reservoirs of endorsements are potentially around the corner for Bolt in August.

Adding to those riches is ANA, otherwise known as All Nippon Airways, which just signed the six-time Olympic gold medalist to an endorsement deal. And the first use of the Bolt brand comes in this television commercial of Bolt dancing to the well-known pop song, “Tokio”, written by a band called “Tokio“.

At the end of the commercial, Bolt says “Bolt-un deru?” (ボルトんでる?) It’s a Japanese play on the phrase “bu-tton deru” (ぶっ飛んでる), which means “crazy”, but in this case probably means “going crazy” in a fun, exciting way. An ordinary way of saying it, more appropriately for ANA perhaps, is “taking off”.

So what do you think of Usain Bolt’s moves?

Kihachiro Onitsuka with Abebe Bikila at that fateful meeting.
Kihachiro Onitsuka with Abebe Bikila at that fateful meeting.

After the Rome Olympics in 1960, there was probably no athlete more well known than Abebe Bikila, the barefoot marathon champion.

So when Bikila arrived in Japan in 1961 for the Mainichi Marathon in Osaka, he was treated like a rock star. Everyone wanted to take a picture of him. Everyone wanted to meet him. In particular, a businessman named Kihachiro Onitsuka, who ran a shoe company, wanted to meet Bikila, and more than anything, hold his feet in his hands.

Bikila’s coach, Onni Niskanen, was concerned as the roads in Osaka were in parts made of gravel and other parts poorly conditioned tarmac. He explained that “I didn’t dare take the risk of bruised feet. Wami (Biratu) had to run barefoot as he had never run with shoes on.”

So as fate has it, the desire of one met the needs of another, thanks to the introduction of Kohei Murakuso, 5 and 10 thousand runner in the Berlin Olympics, Kihachiro Onitsuka was brought to the room of Abebe Bikila. As related in the book, Bikila – Ethiopia’s Barefoot Olympian, by Tim Judah, Onitsuka really tried to impress Bikila with the possibility of injury, as well as the benefit of a shoe that grips the road. Here is how Onitsuka remembers the conversation:

Onitsuka: I am here to support you and supply you with shoes. I hope you will win this race with my shoes!
Bikila: I have always run barefoot and I have won many times. I don’t need shoes.
Onitsuka: The roads in Japan are very rough and that’s why you should wear shoes.
Bikila: The roads may be rough but I don’t need shoes.
Onitsuka: Your bare feet are excellent, they are like cat’s paws. But still, shoes could improve your records.

Despite Bikila’s resistance, Niskanen weighed in with the view that shoes might be a good idea on this terrain, and Bikila gave in to the word of his coach. Bikila did indeed win the marathon fairly handily, and it was reported that

Adolph and Rudolph Dassler
Adolph and Rudolph Dassler

The battle between Adidas and Puma is no coincidence – their cut-throat competition founded on a blood rivalry.

There once was a company called Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik, formed after World War I by Christoph Dassler in the town of Merzogenaurach in Germany. Christoph’s two sons Adolph and Rudolph became active in the family business. With the help of partner blacksmiths who made spikes for track shoes, they built shoes for runners, and famously got American Jesse Owens to wear their track shoes at the 1936 Olympic Games. Owens won four gold medals in those shoes, and the Dassler brothers got incredible insight into the power of branding.

But the family business would not last. As Andrew Jennings wrote in his book, The Lord of the Rings: Power, Money, and Drugs in the Modern Olympics, “…the two brothers had a dreadful argument. So dreadful was the dispute that Adolph and Rudolph decided never to speak to each other again. They parted company and ran rival shoe businesses in the town on either side of the Aurach River.”

james cleveland owens – modell waitzer – 1936, sprint shoe worn at the olympic games in berlin; shoe size: 7,5 (uk), 162 g image © adidas
james cleveland owens – modell waitzer – 1936, sprint shoe worn at the olympic games in berlin; shoe size: 7,5 (uk), 162 g image © adidas

Adolph, who was called Adi by family and friends, combined his nickname and the first syllable of his last name to form the brand “Adidas”. Rudolph chose a sleek and powerful big cat to represent his shoe company “Puma”. The company not only split in two in 1948, so did the town, as Richard Hoffer explains in his book on the Mexico City Games, Something in the Air.

“This created a civic tension in the town, as well, as scores of employees were now forced to take sides, some with Adolf’s newly formed Adidas company, others with Rudolf’s Puma. It was said that townspeople walked the streets with their heads down, the better to check out their neighbors’ footwear, and thus identify their family allegiance.”

Adi Dassler and his son Horst would

adidas-vs-puma

Way before there was a Nike, there was Adidas and Puma. The basketball shoe wars of today are echoes of the battles that took place between two rival German shoe manufacturers. And in these battles emerged a hugely lucrative sports marketing business that benefited both maker and athlete. At the Melbourne Summer Games in 1956, the son of Adidas owner, Horst Dassler, convinced officials to prevent the shipment of Puma shoes from passing through Customs. At the same time, the Adidas shipment came through allowing him to give away shoes to eager Olympians. When American sprinter Bobby Morrow won three gold medals in Melbourne, he was wearing a free pair of Adidas running shoes. When Americans saw Morrow and his triple-striped shoes on the cover of Life Magazine, Adidas sales jumped. Bobby Morrow_Life 12-10-56 The German champion sprinter of the 1960 Games in Rome also got free shoes, and a whole lot more. Armin Hary was the first runner other than an American since 1928 to win the 100 meter race and lay claim to the fastest man on the planet. And when he crossed the finish line, it was in Puma spikes. Yet, when he stood on the winners platform to receive his gold medal, he was wearing the stripes of Adidas. (Go to this site to see the pictures.) Hary was clearly playing Adidas and Puma against each other, not only receiving shoes, but also payments.

In 1964, the human bullet, Bob Hayes was in the middle of a bidding war between