Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nike Beijing Summit (part three)...

BEAVERTON, Oregon--Day 2 of the Nike Beijing Summit started out with a tour of the Nike Sports Research Lab, a place that I had visited several times back in my Nike wear testing days (before I got old and injured). The NSRL has sure changed a lot since then, as there are much, much more sophisticated pieces of machinery in the lab, including the state of the art Alter-G treadmill that Dathan Ritzenhein talked about at last year’s Nike summit in New York.

While touring the lab, we saw two runners running side by side, one wearing the Ice Vest (left) that I talked about in part one, and the other running in a standard Nike Dri-Fit shirt, which would be fine, except that the temperature inside the climate-controlled room was close to the conditions expected in Beijing. The two guys in the room were hooked up electronically with sensors that detected body temperatures in key parts of the body.

As they ran on the treadmill, we were shown a computer image of both runners in the next room that showed each runner’s core temperature. Obviously, the guy with the ice vest looked to be more comfortable. I guess the question is whether he’s paying a price for comfort with the extra weight he’s carrying (almost 4 kilos) with the vest, keeping in mind that they’re only doing what is theoretically a warmup run.

After seeing an array of other displays, including a female running repeatedly over a force plate, and a guy wearing a full black body suit lined with sensor dots (so they can do a stick figure rendering of him on the computer) shooting baskets, it was time to head to the Lance Armstrong Building to see a demonstration of Nike’s Swift technology and the swimsuit that will go against the highly touted Speedo LZR suit, which has taken the swimming world by storm with the numerous world records set in the last few months.

One minor problem…on the grass field in front of the Lance, Oregon Project runners Adam & Kara Goucher, Galen Rupp, Amy Yoder Begley and Caitlin Chock were getting ready to do a 5-mile tempo run under the watchful eye of Alberto Salazar, with former George Mason standout Julius Achon jumping back and forth between the two groups acting as a pacer.

After getting a big hug from Kara (“Don’t mind me being all sweaty”), she said that she wasn’t exactly looking forward to this workout, which started at 5:40 and progressively got faster, especially since they were running entirely on grass. Husband Adam told a group of us that he was getting over the injuries that bothered him towards the end of last season, and Alberto put a positive spin on the workout (“These guys are complaining that we’re running them on the grass, but they’re not getting injured,” Salazar said).

As the runners went through their paces while we were inside the pool at the Lance listening to the Swift presentation, I could not help but notice that they were running their laps around the grass field clockwise. My guess is that it’s probably another way to lessen the stress on the body, since you run track races counterclockwise.

Yet another unexpected surprise of the summit was running into and chatting with former USA Track & Field CEO Craig Masback during lunch. Masback was escorting a reporter back to the Tiger Woods Center when Brian Metzler of Runner’s World, Bob Babbitt of Competitor magazine, and I saw him.

Since resigning from USATF to take a sports marketing position with Nike, Masback’s taken a lot of heat from folks in the running community, namely for the perception that his Nike job was a payoff for delivering the 2012 Olympic Trials to Eugene, despite Eugene not having completed the 2008 Trials, a fact that’s made people in Sacramento very upset.

After catching up with Craig, it was time for the final big presentation of shoes for each of the 32 Olympic sports, and a showing of the track and field spikes.

For those who follow high school cross country in the states of Oregon and Washington, the name John Truax is significant, as he’s the guy, who along with Josh Rowe, created the annual Nike Border Clash cross country race in November.

Truax talked me through the entire line of specialty track & field shoes available for the Olympics. For the most part, there are no significant design changes in the specialty field event shoes other than cosmetics and upper materials. Their sprint shoes retain some of the same plates that sprinters have grown accustomed to, but you will see some of the Flywire technology on the uppers of the shoes, especially on the middle distance Zoom Victory (above) and the 5/10k Zoom Matumbo spike.

Finally, we got a sneak peek at the uniforms the Nike sponsored athletes will wear this spring and summer, along with the newly designed uniforms for the Kenyan and Ukraine federations (left). Alas, the USA Track & Field uniform won’t be rolled out until the Olympic Trials in Eugene, but there was a conceptual drawing of it snuck into a PowerPoint slide presentation.

For athletes looking for the best and most innovative gear to help them perform at their best in Beijing, the Nike Summit was certainly the place to be.

NOTE: Special thanks to Nike PR gurus Jacie Prieto and Jill Zanger for their help in gaining access to the summit.

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