The trademark Nike Swoosh made its debut in 1972, timed for that year’s US Track and Field Trials, on the first line of footwear by Nike, the brand from the state of Oregon launched by track coach Bill Bowerman and runner Phil Knight, trained by Bowerman. For years, Bowerman’s ideas for running shoe innovation had been ignored by established manufacturers, so he decided to design his own trainers. At the University of Oregon, Bowerman coached legendary runner Steve Prefontaine, known as Pre, who pushed the pair to make better running shoes; before his untimely death in 1975, Pre had been profiled on the cover of Sports Illustrated, finished fourth in the 5,000 metres at the Munich Olympics, held seven American records and had become a brand ambassador for Nike.
Though Pre was the first sports star to support Nike, he would be far from the last. The company came to symbolise excellence not just in shoes for running – with, for example, the launch of the trademark Nike Air technology in the Tailwind running shoe in 1978 – but for just about every other sport. Michael Jordan was the NBA Rookie of the Year when the original Air Jordan debuted in the 1984-85 season, and the Jumpman icon and Air Jordan line continues to dominate the basketball market, even after nearly three decades; Bo Jackson, the All-Star baseball and football player, roared to dominance with his line of cross-trainers and the Bo Knows campaign in 1989; and Tiger Woods joined Nike Golf in 1996, a year before he won the Masters by a record 12 strokes.
Nike also pioneered breakthrough tennis shoes, backed by a parade of stars ranging from John McEnroe to Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Its continuing technological innovations include the Nike Zoom Vapor 9 Tour, which was introduced at the beginning of 2012 after Federer challenged designers to come up with something that had the comfort and breathability of a running shoe but with close-to-the-ground stability and multi-directional support for a high-intensity, fast-moving tennis game (Federer wore the shoes when winning his 17th Grand Slam title and breaking the record for most weeks as the number one tennis player in the world).
Nike’s cachet is not due just to its foundation in supporting and designing for elite sportsmen and women, but to its success in reaching out to every athlete. Its mission statement reads ‘If you have a body, you are an athlete’ and iconic marketing campaigns such as Just Do It get the message across that there is an athlete in all of us, whether we are running one mile or 100. The company’s current We Run City 10K series aims to get nearly 400,000 runners moving in races taking place in 34 cities around the world. Nike’s mission ‘to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’ is at the core of its enduring appeal.