Nike founder Phil Knight wrote a book called Shoe Dog in 2016. “Shoe dog” is the name given to people who devote their obsessive career to the shoe industry.
Knight was a shoe dog who started a sneaker business. He took on a partner named Bill Bowerman. Bowerman was Knight’s athletics coach at the University of Oregon. He was the first person to make Knight think – really think – about what people put on their feet.
Bill Bowerman was a genius coach, a master motivator, a natural leader of young men, and there was one piece of equipment he felt was crucial to their development: shoes. He was obsessed with shoes. Bowerman was always tinkering with sneakers. He tore them up, made a minor edit, stitched them back together, gave them to his runners, and watched the results.
Phil Knight was his favorite guinea pig. Knight wasn’t the best runner, so any improvement would be immediately noticeable. Bowerman was determined to find new ways to reinforce a shoe’s instep, cushion the insole, and make more room for the forefoot. He always had a new plan or a new plan to improve the sneakers.
One day, Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman were discussing improving sneakers. Knight said while there have been breakthroughs in the cushioning and nylon of a shoe’s upper construction, there hasn’t been a single innovation in outsoles since before the Great Depression. . Bowerman, who had just been chosen to be the head coach of the United States track and field team at the 1972 Munich Olympics, nodded as he listened. He scribbled a note and let the thought simmer in the back of his mind.
The following Sunday, sitting at breakfast with his wife, his gaze fell on his waffle maker. He noted the grid-like pattern of the waffle maker. It matched a certain pattern in his mind. A model he had been driving for years.
He asked Mrs. Bowerman if he could borrow it. He took the waffle maker to his garage, filled it with urethane, heated it up, and quickly destroyed the waffle maker.
Then he went out and bought another waffle maker, experimented with different substances and finally figured it out. He sewed the waffle sole to a pair of running shoes and gave it to one of his runners. This runner ran like a rabbit.
The discovery of a waffle sole – inspired by a breakfast waffle maker – transformed the way athletes run, stop and jump to this day.
For more stories from Under the influence, click or tap the play button above to listen to the full episode. Find more episodes on the CBC Listen app or subscribe to the podcast.