The Defining Running Shoes of the '80s

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With Nike setting the tone by way of using innovative materials and technology in running sneakers the decade prior, in the 1980s, the trend continued as other brands joined. As the running boom of the '70s only got stronger in the '80s, footwear brands began pushing the boundaries of innovation to turn running sneakers into fine-tuned machines. The decade left a lasting imprint on the running industry, and paved the way for cutting-edge shoe design. In fact, a lot of the technology we she in running shoes today—like Asics' Gel cushioning, Nike's visible air, and adidas Torsion System—were birthed in the '80s. To follow up the game-changing models of the '70s, we give you The Defining Running Shoes of the '80s.

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No. 12 - Onitsuka Tiger X Calibur GT

Release date: 1982

Onitsuka Tiger has created some memorable running shoes over the years, but the X Calibur GT was truly a game changer. Air Flex canals cut into the midsole to create a flexible ride from heel to toe in spite of the extensive cushioning, and a plastic medial post was inserted for pronation control which was a big leap in the evolution of stability sneakers.



No. 11 - Puma Easy Rider

Release date: 1982

Jogging was hot shit in the ‘70s and ‘80s. So in 1982, Puma introduced the Easy Rider. Featuring a west coast-inspired design, the Easy Rider featured a carbonized sole included multiple levels in the PU wedge system, and the outsole design showed grip not previously seen on road racers.



No. 10 - Brooks Chariot

Release date: 1983

Much like today, Brooks was a serious player in the running industry. With the introduction of the Chariot in 1983, Brooks dropped the wrap-around-the-ankle lacing system seen in other shoes of the time, but kept the simple look consistent with running shoes of the early ‘80s. Rolling your ankle was a major concern at the time. So Brooks gave the Chariot a stacked midsole with "rollbars" that slanted the feet inward to eliminate any chance of pronation.


Air Mariah

No. 9 - Nike Air Mariah

Release date: 1980

Released in the early '80s, the Air Mariah made its debut on the world stage at the Moscow marathon trials. It took some time for elite runners of the time to buy into the hype of the Max Air-infused shoe, but once the full performance potential was realized, the biggest names in the game began lacing up in the Mariah—including Alberto Salazar, who wore a pair in 1982 en route to his third New York marathon win. Soon, even runners under contract with competitor tore off the Swoosh logo and began wearing high performance shoe.



No. 8 - adidas APS

Release date: 1986

Today, adidas continues to release innovative running shoes like the Energy Boost and Spring Blade, but in the '80s, the APS was the poster child for the Three Stripes. The APS was a sign of things to come for the running world. It featured an incredible shock absorption system, and was designed to help eliminate pronation. To allow runners to customize the shoe to their preference, a simple twist of a key controlled the hardness or softness of your midsole. Talk about innovation at its finest.

36-Nike-Terra-TCNo. 7 - Nike Terra TC

Release date: 1981

The T/C stood for training and competition, and was the first running flat designed for both. What started off as a material used for producing teddy bears soon turned into a revelation for Nike. The result was the Phylon technology we still see in Swoosh-branded performance sneakers today. Unlike urethane, the Phylon midsole didn't break down. While the idea took a bit for people to get used to, its lasting impact was felt for decades on end.



No. 6 - Asics GT II

Release date: 1986

The Gran Turismo (GT) II was the first shoe to include Asics' long-standing Gel cushioning technology. Just take a look at the running collections from Asics today, most of them start with the same three letters that represent a responsive yet supportive midsole. While the GT II wouldn't stand a chance in today's races, the stuff under the hood gave runners plenty to look forward to.



No. 5 - Nike Eagle

Release date: 1980

In the '80s, testing a new material from a different industry was rare. The release of the Eagle changed that in a hurry. Made in part from a unique new fabric called GEOS (generally used for circuit polishing), the Eagle wasn't just super lightweight, but it was also tougher than shoes made with traditional leather. Runner Alberto Salazar helped cement the Nike Eagle's legendary status by winning the New York marathon back-to-back in 1980-81 in a pair of the kicks.



No. 4 - Saucony Jazz

Release date: 1981

The Saucony Jazz is a classic in ever sense of the word. With an upper made of nylon and suede for comfort, along with a heavily patterned outsole for traction, the Jazz set the standard in all-around performance in 1984 with the Jazz. It featured the perfect mix of clean lines and great colors, making it an instant success. It’s one of those shoe that we’ll likely still be talking about for decades to come.



No. 3 - Nike Air Sock Racer

Release date: 1984

In the ‘70s, leading into the early ‘80s, Nike was all about perfecting. By 1984, the Swoosh began shifting its focus on the upper. The immediate result was the slip-on Air Sock Racer, which featured a full-length Nike Air midsole, along with a synthetic mesh upper just a couple of straps for support. Ingred Kristiansen won the ’86 Boston Marathon in the minimalist-friendly racing flats, and even slipped them on at the Olympic Trials a year later.



No. 2 - adidas ZX 8000

Release date: 1989

Today, adidas' Torsion technology is well known in the running world, and it all started with the release of the ZX 8000 in the late '80s. Designed specifically to support the midfoot and allow movement, the ZX 8000 was aimed for serious runners looking to further improve their running techniques. The Three Stripes continues to include the Torsion System in its performance shoes today.


Air Max 1

No. 1 - Nike Air Max 1

Release date: 1987

Air Max technology blew peoples’ minds in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, but Nike took it to a whole new level in 1987 with the release of the legendary Air Max 1. Up until then, people only heard about and felt the Air cushioning units embedded in the midsole, but for the first time, the world was able to see the air thanks to the Air Max 1’s transparent window that gave runners a glimpse into the future.

Gurvinder Singh Gandu is a New York City-based writer and wear-tester for Sneaker Report, and contributor to Complex Media. Follow him @GurvinderSG for the latest in performance footwear and gear.

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