Charismatic, irritating Nike will take Oregon Project closure in its stride

first_img Facebook Nike Oregon Project shut down after Alberto Salazar’s four-year ban Share on Messenger Nike’s Eric Cantona campaign in the 1990s. Photograph: Nike The closure of Nike’s Oregon Project, barely a week after a four-year ban was slapped on its founder and director, Alberto Salazar, deprives athletics of its most extraordinary coaching scheme since Ma Junren’s army of female distance runners emerged from their high-altitude Tibetan training camp – fuelled, he said, by little more than turtle blood – to destroy the competition at the 1993 world championships in Stuttgart. Twitter Athletics Share via Email Share on LinkedIn This weekend in Vienna the Nike-sponsored Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge will be wearing a pair of the company’s latest running shoe, the ZoomX Vaporfly Next%, as he makes another attempt to become the first man in history to run the marathon distance in under two hours. Already there is discussion about the shoe’s advanced impact-damping foam heel, carbon-fibre sole plate and £240 price tag for the off-the-shelf version.In the spirit of the Oregon Project, Kipchoge will run behind a rotating phalanx of 40 pacemakers, deployed in aerodynamic formations determined by the force and direction of the wind. They will be preceded by an electric car beaming laser lines on to the road to indicate exactly where they need to be to maintain the required schedule.This is not sport as it was once known. But no one has yet found a better way of persuading generations of rappers and skateboarders that buying the same sports kit is the best way to express your essential individuality. The end of the Oregon Project is unlikely to change that. US sports Sign up to The Recap, our weekly email of editors’ picks. Marina Hyde comment Nike Since you’re here… … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. After that coup, little more was heard of the controversial Chinese coach or his runners. For Nike, however, the termination of the project founded in 2001, where athletes lived in a low-oxygen environment and made use of low-gravity treadmills, is unlikely even to register a blip on the annual trading figures. In their grand scheme of things, any piece of controversy enhances one of the world’s mega-brands.Since the day in 1971 when Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman changed the name of their enterprise from Blue Ribbon Sports to Nike Inc, the trainers, T-shirts, sweat-pants and headbands with the swoosh trademark have become synonymous with a challenge to long-accepted codes of behaviour. Even staid old Wimbledon became a stage for Nike’s show as John McEnroe, at the height of his fame in 1978, signed with the company, which shrewdly exploited his habit of exploding into tantrums. The Brat’s box-office appeal was soon helping to move box-fresh trainers in large quantities as Nike challenged the hegemony of Adidas, which had benefited from long-established links and influence within sport’s traditional governing bodies. Topics Sport If you were over 25 and found yourself irritated by a Nike campaign, that meant the advertising and marketing departments were doing their job properly, although it would be hard to recreate today the outrage provoked during Euro 96 by a poster campaign built around a man who was then probably the most famous sporting figure in the country. “’66 was a great year for English football,” it said. “Eric was born.” The effrontery of it was breathtaking. A year earlier Nike had exploited the selfsame Cantona’s lengthy ban for kicking a spectator at Selhurst Park with a poster showing him about to emerge from the tunnel in his Manchester United kit: “He’s been punished for his mistakes. Now it’s someone else’s turn.”All kinds of adversity can be used to polish the brand’s charisma. Earlier this year Nike withdrew a new model of trainer – the Air Max Quick Strike Fourth of July – when Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback, and others pointed out that the Stars and Stripes emblazoned on the heel was an 18th century design, a version associated with the American Nazi Party. On past form, whatever short-term damage may have been caused by criticisms of the withdrawal from leading Republicans such as Senator Ted Cruz (“Nike only wants to sell to people who hate the American flag”) will be balanced by the benefits of association with an outsider hero like the man who refused to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner. Nike: somehow the most cynical and naive company in the entire world of sport Share on WhatsApp The long-term success of Nike’s image-building could be seen this summer when a pair of unworn 47-year-old track shoes went for $437,000 (about £350,000) in a Sotheby’s auction. They were designed by Bowerman, an athletics coach and Nike co-founder, for US athletes taking part in the 1972 Olympic trials. Only 12 pairs were made, and few are said to survive. Inspired by the marks made on the moon’s surface by American astronauts, Bowerman poured rubber into his wife’s waffle iron to create the distinctive sole.The lucky purchaser was Miles Nadal, a Canadian investor. A few days earlier he had paid $850,000 for 99 other pairs of rare and limited-edition trainers. He is the billionaire version of every kid who ever stared at the window of a sports shop, lusting after some newly launched style. Share on Facebook Read more Reuse this content Share on Twitter Pinterest Share on Pinterest Read more Support The Guardian Alberto Salazarlast_img read more