Thursday, November 13, 2014

A day at adidas...

After the conclusion of our coverage of the BMW Berlin Marathon on September 28th, spent a day visiting the world headquarters of adidas in the Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach, which is about a 30 minute drive from Nuremberg.

My trip to adidas headquarters began with a five hour train ride from Berlin to Nuremberg, where I tried to catch up on sleep and get my body adjusted to European time two days after landing in Berlin fueled solely on adrenaline (one word of advice for anyone going to Europe from the USA to cover an event--give yourself an extra day to adjust to the time).

While on the train, my mind wandered back to the days when I first started in the sport, and the adidas shoes many of the top runners of that era ran in--the Country (my first pair of actual running shoes and the shoe many of us at both Sharples Jr High & Franklin wore, because they were in the school colors of white & green), the SL 72 & 76, and the spikes of choice that many of my teammates at Franklin HS wore--the kangaroo suede Tokyo 64 and the Titan with the octopus suction cup outsole that looked like the face of a ping-pong paddle.

I also thought about the stories that some of the track & field athletes of the 1960s and 70s told (some exaggerated, depending on the number of beverages ingested beforehand) about the creative ways amateurs were compensated for medals at the Olympics, including the Benjamin Franklin insoles inside specially marked boxes of adidas and Pumas handed out at the athletes village in the days before sports marketing became big time with agents and public relations execs surrounding athletes.

A few hours after arriving in Nuremberg, I met my host, Craig Vanderoef and his fiancé, Raine at the hotel, and walked a few blocks through the old town for dinner at a local restaurant.

Vanderoef lived in Seattle for a number of years after graduating from the University of Virginia, where he was a standout distance runner, first working at Super Jock 'n Jill, before going to Asics and then to Brooks, where he was a product line manager before joining adidas in 2008.  Craig is now the business unit director for running apparel at adidas.

After some small talk about how he ended up in Germany, along with the previous day's results from the Berlin Marathon (which was a huge victory for adidas, led by Dennis Kimetto's world record of 2:02:57, cruising through the streets of Berlin in a pair of adizero Adios Boosts), and the cultural differences of working in a foreign country,  he filled me in on the tour of the campus, which would cumulate with a meet and greet with the new marathon world record holder.

The following morning, we left Nuremberg for the drive to Herzogenaurach, while passing through some of the historic sites, including the Palace of Justice, where the Nuremberg Trials were held after World War II.

As we entered Herzogenaurach, Craig and I stopped by the original adidas headquarters (above), where founder Adi Dassler worked on creations for some of the world's best athletes ranging from Jim Ryun to Muhammad Ali to Franz Beckenbauer.

From there, we crossed the Aurach River, which divides Herzogenaurach, and drove past the world headquarters of Puma, before heading to adidas headquarters, which is built on the site of a former US military base.

Once inside the adidas World of Sports complex, the first order of business was a short meeting at the "Laces" research and development building to see elements of the 2015 running apparel line. 

What I found interesting was the fact that wool is going to play a major role in some of adidas' technical offerings in 2015 and beyond, extending to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.  In fact, the company has some pieces in its current running line made of wool, namely the adistar Primeknit wool tee, and the adistar wool insulated jacket.

Another running initiative that was communicated is the company's involvement as a partner with AKTIV Against Cancer, the charity co-founded by the late Grete Waitz, one of the true legends of the sport, and a multi-time winner of the New York Marathon.

During the recently concluded New York Marathon, adidas launched a line of performance apparel and the Grete 30 Boost running shoe, along with a new logo for AKTIV Against Cancer.  In addition, adidas donated $1 to AKTIV for every tweet, Instagram or Facebook post that included the hashtag #mystepmatters with an image of a hand symbol in the shape of an "A".

After the apparel presentation, I then took the grand tour of the campus, including the building where a small sampling of historic adidas shoes, apparel and packaging were displayed. The sight of Bob Beamon's shoes worn in Mexico City to long jump 29-2.5 (8.90m) along with the Tokyo and Titan spikes immediately brought back thoughts of my high school track meets.

We then visited Adi Dassler Sportplatz, the on campus soccer stadium/track complex used by several of the world's best soccer teams and track athletes whenever they're in town, and oh, by the way, a great workout facility for its employees.  By the way, here I am next to the statue of Adi Dassler inside the stadium.

I then made a quick stop inside the adidas performance lab, where one of the technicians took me through some of the machinery used to test prototype shoes, along with an array of equipment and high speed cameras used to scan the feet of athletes and capture athletes performing various activities. 

It was then time to head to the lobby of "Laces" for the lunchtime meet and greet with Dennis Kimetto and Emmanuel Mutai, two days after their impressive run through the streets of Berlin.  A large number of adidas employees assembled and patiently waited to get an autographed poster or a photo op with the world's two fastest marathoners.  

Finally, I had a chance to chat with George Vontsolos, the category director for global performance running, about what's in store for adidas running.

Boost continues to be the big story in adidas running, as they've expanded their offerings of running shoes with the Boost cushioning system, comprised of thermoplastic polyurethane material that is more durable and temperature resistant than the ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) material used as midsoles on the majority of running shoes marketed worldwide.

After launching in early 2013 with a running shoe, adidas now markets shoes using the Boost cushioning system in running, cross training, basketball, and cleated footwear.  Besides Kimetto's world record in Berlin, Wilson Kipsang ran to victory at the New York Marathon wearing a pair of adidas adizero adios Boost 2.0 racing flats (above/photo courtesy adidas).  Additionally, Berlin women's winner Tirfi Tsegaye and runner-up Feyse Tadese wore the adizero adios Boost 2.0.

We also talked in general terms about some of the track & field spikes that you'll see in the 2016 Olympics.  Like all of the major manufacturers, adidas is already working on their line for Rio.

For a self-proclaimed shoe junkie, the adidas tour was well worth spending the extra two days in Germany to gain knowledge of the athletic sportswear industry, and to appreciate the history of one of sports' most iconic brands.

NOTE:  Special thanks to my host Craig Vanderoef and his staff at adidas in Herzogenaurach, along with Javier Macias of adidas Media Relations in Herzogenaurach and Caitlin Albaugh of adidas Media Relations in Portland. did not receive any compensation for this post.

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