The year in which I began my running career were a transitional time in terms of available running shoes. The gum rubber flats we used for training in 1971 and ’72 were not much good for road running. I was glad when the German shoe company adidas penetrated the American market and we could put good running shoes on our feet for the first time.
In the spring of 1972, the Varsity track team at Kaneland High School was issued a shoe called the adidas Gazelle. The pair that I received were a brushed suede leather. They were sky blue with three white stripes. The sole was flat with a textured rubber grip. I loved those shoes because they meant that I was accepted as part of the varsity team as a sophomore.
I wore them several weeks in practice. Then we headed out to a meet in Rochelle, Illinois. It was a cold, grey day with a sullen wind blowing. I reluctantly dropped my sweats in a bundle near some other Kaneland runners and pulled on my running spikes. They might have been adidas too, but they weren’t the super-comfortable kangaroo-leather Pumas that I’d been given to wear as a freshman cross country runner. Despite their heinous origins, I will love those shoes as long as I live.
I ran the two-mile that day, and returned with cold-chapped legs and a head full of sweat. Pulling on my sweats, I looked around for the adidas Gazelles and realized they were missing. Frantically, I looked all around the area in case someone had moved my sweats. No such luck. The Gazelles had been stolen.
The anger that welled up in me at that moment was uncontrollable, and sad. I asked around to see if anyone had moved my shoes. That was hopeful at best. “You lost your shoes?” a teammate asked. “No, I think someone stole them.”
“Yeah. You shouldn’t leave stuff out like that,” he reminded me.
For sure, I was too trusting of the world at that age. Far too trusting.
That theft meant I had nothing left to wear on my feet the rest of the meet except my spikes. I pulled those on sullenly and sat on the cold ground. I was scheduled to double back and run the mile that day. I was less than enthusiastic about that.
The next day at school, I had to inform the team manager that my shoes had been stolen. That afternoon I received another pair of gum rubber flats to wear for the rest of the season. Talk about depressing.
A new year, and new shoes
So it was with a certain amount of appreciative glee that I received a set of adidas Italia running shoes on showing up for cross country practice at St. Charles High School in the fall of 1973. They were white leather with an attractive green sole and matching three green stripes. They soles were practical, and flat. The grip was a sort of hexagonal pattern that I held up to the light to behold.
Italias were an immensely functional shoe. They held up quite well running on dew-soaked grass. They felt good on the roads as well. I received a set of adidas running spikes as well. They where white with black stripes. We’d usually use athletic tape to cover the shoelaces after tying them. That kept the shoe from coming untied. A pretty practical measure, one that I wished I’d followed on occasion later in my running career.
That same year, adidas came out with a running shoe called the SL-72. It was a blue model with white stripes and a much more aggressive sole structure and pattern. That model set the tone for running shoe evolution for years to come. They were issued in kind with the 1972 Munich Olympics. I trained in several pairs of those shoes, which featured nylon uppers. They were lighter than the adidas Italia and breathed better. Another adidas model called the SL-76 would come out in time for the Montreal, but they were stiff by comparison with the SL-72 and about that time an entire range of running shoes from Nike to Brooks had emerged on the market.
But a part of me will always hold dear the first season of training in actual adidas running shoes. They made me feel like a real runner, and my performances that year honored those instincts in many ways. One can argue that the shoes don’t make the man, and I would agree. But they sure can help.
So thank you, adidas. I will love your three stripes forever.