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In stores and on the horizon

Nike, Adidas are arming the public with sports merchandise designed to boost precision, performance

Posted: August 3, 2009 10:46 p.m.
Updated: August 4, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Equipment like the Nike+ Sportband is being developed to give runners feedback during their exercise, including distance ran and calories burned.

 
Sports are about evolution, even in the recreational world.

The Sunday duffer is always looking for a way to shave a few strokes of his handicap.

“Seinfeld” dedicated half an episode to the sale and consequences of the 1990s product “Jump Soles.”

Even many slow pitch, beer league softball teams have a guy who keeps “stats.”

And because of this, athletic product manufacturers are constantly changing and coming up with a way to trump their competitors for the almighty dollar.

No company may be more inventive than Nike.

The Oregon-based shoe company that is nearing its 40th birthday broadened beyond the days of Prefontaine in 1980 when it opened the Nike Sports Research Lab on the Nike campus.

Now Ph.D.s and biomechanics use some of the most advanced equipment to test products and continually improve their gear.

“Our goal is to take our products to the highest level,” said Nike New York City communications director Derek Kent. “We work with the greatest athletes in the world to make our products the best they can be. Our goal is to exceed the highest goals before anything hits the shelves. We want what we sell to make you a better athlete.”

One way Nike is helping its consumers improve as athletes is the ever-evolving Nike+ program, which it started with Apple in 2006.

The New Nike+ Sportband is a setup that works with an iPod to chart a runner as he or she runs and listens to music, giving runners real-time performance feedback on their distance ran, current pace, time of the run and calories burned by looking at a Sportband, which is worn on the runner’s wrist.

Runners can also hear their stats through their headphones if they prefer.

“It’s a great motivational tool,” Kent said. “And it is really growing on Web sites because friends can do things like challenge each other to see who can get better running stats. It’s a great way to make running more fun.”

NikePlus.com currently has nearly two million users, and features several innovative functions beyond fostering a little good-hearted smack talk.

Users can locate new shoes with just a few quick questions, get help with setting new goals or challenges and personalize their NikePlus.com site.

But the best function of Nike+ still may be the “Power Song.” With the push of a button a runner’s iPod can immediately jump to a selected song that was chosen by the owner for especially grueling moments.

“Sometimes you need a boost when you are going up that big hill,” Kent said. “All you have to do is call up the ‘Power Song,’ and you’ve got ‘Eye of the Tiger.’”

Still, the people at Nike haven’t gone away from what made it one of the most successful companies in the world.

In April Nike released Lunar Glide+, a shoe designed with mid-sole architecture called Dynamic Support, which is a patent-pending system that adapts to a runner’s gait with each step, providing superior cushioning and stability.

“Runners traditionally had to choose between stability or cushioning shoes based on their foot strike,” said Leslie Lane, Global Vice President and General Manager for Nike Running in an April press release. “Now, runners can choose a single shoe that will respond to all of their needs, even adjusting on the fly during a run.”

The shoe is crafted with the two-part LunarLite cushioning system, which incorporates a lightweight foam core that sits within a firmer foam carrier. It also features a rear-foot wedge that provides added support.

“The best thing about the shoe is that it gives the runner all that they need,” Kent said. “It’s kind of like one-stop shopping for the runner.”

If there is one company that can give Nike a run for its creative money it may be Adidas.

To some Adidas may still be synonymous with Rod Lavers and Sambas, but the now Portland-based company produces much more than just shoes.

Recently the company introduced several new materials to the world of sports.

TECHFIT is a customized system to address every players’ individual needs during athletics by combining compression fabrics and a web of strategically placed Thermoplastic Polyurethane powerbands to allow more efficient movement, which allows increased movement, while decreasing fatigue and improving endurance.

“We’re always looking for new ways to help athletes move one step quicker and jump one inch higher,” said Vice President of Adidas Global Basketball Lawrence Norman at a press conference to unveil the material. “We know TECHFIT is the answer that can help athletes do that, which is why we believe it’s the future of the game. On any given night, a player can choose whether he wants to wear Padded to give him more protection in the paint or PowerWeb to give him up to an extra four percent in his vertical leap. With a fully modular compression line athletes can now personalize their uniform to fit their varying playing styles and performance needs.”

If TECHFIT isn’t a woman’s preferred workout attire, Adidas released an alternative in July.

The Adilbria collection features Skintex technology, which contains vitalizing and stimulating essential oils and vitamin E extracts that release ingredients when friction opens the microcapsules in the clothing.

Adidas believes the oils help to reawaken the senses and stimulate the metabolism.

Also, for the workout fashionista, the Adilbria collection features matching shoes.

Adidas is not only looking out for pilates patrons though.

In July, Spaniard tennis player Fernando Verdasco became the first athlete to wear the Mi Adidas Barricade V in a match. The shoes featured neon yellow laces and silver claws because he designed the pair himself.

The Mi Adidas is a variety of customizable shoes that is also available to the public by going to www.miadidas.com/us.

Consumers can choose an outsole or studs, upper materials, midsole density, and different sizes for the left and right feet, as well as different widths. The range of colors and materials results in millions of possible Mi Adidas combinations.

For the more conventional athlete Adidas also recently released the latest version of the F50i, which features SprintSkin, a material that is supposed to act like a second skin on the player’s foot.

“I’ve never felt so good in new football boots,” said co-creator Lionel Messi, star striker for FC Barcelona and the Argentine national team, in a public statement after practicing in the shoes. “The extremely thin shell and its fantastic color and youthful style allow me to play to my full potential on the pitch. Perfect contact with the ball is essential for me.”

Adidas has also stepped up the level of performance in the golf shoe industry where the company just released the Tour 360 Sport, which looks more like a soccer shoe than the traditional golf shoe.

The shoe features 50/50 Protect technology, which is a water-resistant thermoplastic polyurethane elastomer shield that surrounds the lower-half of the shoe. It protects the foot from wet grass, mud and debris on the sole.

The top half of the shoe utilizes a breathable air-mesh and formation technology for improved temperature management, flexibility and comfort.

“Formation technology is built to minimize seams and optimize seam placement to virtually eliminate any irritation that a golfer may experience in a swing,” said Tiss Dahan, Senior Director of Global Apparel for Adidas Golf. “We build this product with ClimaCool technology and T400 yarn to provide exceptional moisture management and full range of motion in a garment that will be very durable and perform consistently over the life of the garment. The silhouettes are athletic in design and fit and will be worn by some of the world’s best athletes.”

The look may be new, but Sandy Lane, public relations supervisor of Adidas and Ashworth golf, points out that every golfer has a unique game and prefers different product styles.

“In Adidas and Ashworth we have two distinct lines for two types of golfers,” Lane said. “Ashworth has a much more traditional look. It’s all about being comfortable on the golf course with our players.

Part II of this series will take a look at more companies and will run in Wednesday’s edition of The Signal.

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