by Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson)
The roots of Nike’s running heritage, and thus the roots of Nike as a company, can be traced back to a single place just a little over 100 miles from their Beaverton World Headquarters: Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. It’s where Bill Bowerman coached, where Steve Prefontaine ran, and where many of Nike’s most important figures - from founder Phil Knight and president Mark Parker to designer Tinker Hatfield - got their first real education. It was also Nike’s first test lab, as Bowerman’s running shoe creations went straight from his basement to the track.
Bowerman and Prefontaine may be gone now, but they – and Oregon - still have special significance at Nike. Prefontaine remains something of the ultimate muse, and Bowerman’s constant pursuit of lighter-weight running shoes has been carried forward in far more technical ways than the old man could have ever imagined. And Oregon’s green and gold colors and Duck mascot remain iconic.
So with a variety of vintage Nike symbols available via for the heel tab of the Nike Air Max 1 via NIKEiD, it only seemed logical to go with the classic Oregon Track Club evergreen. (Prefontaine probably wouldn’t have run in it, but Bowerman, who added the extra heel wedge to the original Cortez, must have appreciated the creation of Air Max.) And as one of Hatfield’s most iconic designs, it seemed entirely appropriate to give it the Oregon treatment.
The starting point was the classic, original Air Max 1 colorway, in red and grey, with a mesh vamp and suede paneling. Colorblocking is super-important on a shoe like the Air Max 1, and it seemed imperative to stick closely to Hatfield’s original, Centre Pompidou inspiration. The Neutral Grey quarter stayed, while the traditional Challenge Red mudguard and Swoosh was flipped with Gorge Green. And, for the final Oregon-appropriate touch, a Team Yellow outsole and upper eyelet. The goal was to create something that would have been issued to the team in 1987, whether as a training shoe or just something to wear to and from meets. It’s not hard to imagine Prefontaine completing a sub-4 mile, slipping off his spikes and into a pair of unlaced Air Max 1s, then running home.
I never ran at Oregon, never ran competitively at all, for that matter. I never met Bill Bowerman, and I was just four years old when Steve Prefontaine died. But the importance of heritage has never been lost on me, and the intertwining histories of Oregon and Nike can’t - and shouldn’t - ever be separated. And while NIKEiD remains at its heart a way of creating product with a personal twist, it’s also a way to create “what-ifs.” I’d like to think old coach Bowerman would approve.
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