The Adidas Spezial Just Had Its Most Unexpected Sneaker Moment

CrossFit star Laura Horvath wore the shoes to win a competition over the weekend.

Laura Horvath Wearing Adidas Handball Spezial
Laura Horvath changing the weights on her barbell in the Adidas Handball Spezial. Via CrossFit
Laura Horvath Wearing Adidas Handball Spezial

The sneaker that Adidas made for the German handball team in 1979 might have created a bigger legacy than the sport of handball itself. I’m saying that simply as an American that realizes that most people in this country still think handball is the sport where you slap a rubber ball against a wall, rather than soccer or football played with your hands. The Adidas Handball Spezial shoe was never a thing in America until the past couple of years, when similarly-shaped models like the Gazelle and Samba regained their positions in fashion and popped up in downtowns across the US. The shoe also had a breakthrough moment over the weekend that no one could have seen coming.

Some of my favorite sneaker moments are the ones you wouldn’t expect. Robert Downey Jr in “Thunder” Air Jordan 4s. Arnold Schwarzenegger having his signature Nike weightlifting shoe. Joe Rogan in Panda Dunks. Stone Cold Steve Austin wearing what looks like a pair of Nike Air Tech Challenges. Kim Kardashian in Air Max 95s. Willie Nelson getting a personal edition of New Balances.

We can now add to that mix Laura Horvath, the winner of the 2023 CrossFit Games, competing in the Adidas Handball Spezial and Gazelle Indoor at the CrossFit European Semifinals this past weekend.

Laura Horvath Wearing Adidas Handball Spezial CrossFit Games

Horvath, a powerful woman that’s just as tenacious and shark-like as she is explosive and strong, is an athlete from Hungary that first burst onto the scene in 2018 when she finished second at the CrossFit Games as a rookie. Her win last year was a culmination of years of hard work. She also served as one of the faces of Rad, an upstart footwear company that’s taken the fitness world by storm through its hype-friendly designs and limited release strategy. No one thought Horvath would hit the competition floor in a pair of Adidas over the weekend, and especially not in retro shoes from the ‘70s that haven’t been used in serious sporting pursuits in roughly 40 years. 

First she wore a pair of white with green stripes Gazelle Indoors for a workout that was a couplet of rowing and handstand walk on Sunday. But that wasn’t that weird; shoes are an afterthought in that event.

What caught everyone’s attention was her coming out in a pair of green with white stripe Handball Spezials for a snatch ladder that increased in weight. People have lifted in flat-soled shoes for ages. Most CrossFit sneakers have a minimal drop to begin with. And sneakers such as Vans and Chuck Taylors have long been worn by powerlifters over the years. In the 2010 CrossFit Games, an athlete even wore a pair of black and white Adidas Sambas as he climbed a 20-foot rope.

But a lot has changed since then in terms of sports-specific footwear. Reebok created the Nano specifically for CrossFit in 2011. And Nike made the Metcon in 2015. Brands like No Bull, Strike Movement, Inov8, and GoRuck have all made shoes for the sport. Adidas, which previously owned Reebok until 2021, stayed out of the lane.

Adidas has now started to sponsor CrossFit athletes, which isn’t all that surprising. It has a long history in making Olympic weightlifting shoes. But still, showing up to the event that’s going to qualify you for the CrossFit Games—regardless if you’re the fittest person in the field—and wearing a pair of sneakers that are more likely to be worn by football hooligans and fashionistas is a bold move. 

The shoes were so bold of a move that the commenter calling the Games noted that Horvath was wearing, “non-crossfit shoes.” Many saw it as a public signal declaring that she was no longer with Rad. We reached out to the brand, and they could not comment on the story. 

In a post on The Barbell Spin's Instagram insinuating that Rad was too small to pay for Horvath's services, Rad owner Ben Massey chimed in with an apparent joke, writing, "Bummed we couldn’t afford her anymore." And Rad athlete Danielle Brandon replied, "yall spend too much on a small time athlete like me."

But the world’s fittest woman leaving her footwear sponsor for a new one is a story, especially abruptly. And she wore a sneaker that’s become popular all of a sudden. Kith did a collaboration on the Handball Spezial last week. Sporty & Rich has a multiple-shoe collaboration on the silhouette coming out this week. And some of the most popular Adidas terrace models over the past couple decades have been versions of the Handball Spezial, such as the GT Manchester, Adidas Glasgow, and Adidas Birmingham. Go to SoHo in New York City and you’ll see people sporting the original colorway in an Argentina-esque blue. Strange to see for a shoe that wasn't even available in the States until last year.

Horvath went on to wear the Spezials for the final event on Sunday that included calories on the Echo Bike, ring muscle ups, and heavy dumbbell lunges. She stood atop the podium in the shoes.

Two women, Tia-Clair Toomey and Danielle Brandon, excitedly wave while seated on a cooler during a CrossFit event. A man stands next to them.

The irony of it is some people ran to the comment sections and thought it was cool that she was wearing Sambas. We’re still in the early stages of flat-soled Adidas fandom in the US (even though the event was in Europe) where people think every similar-looking shoe is a Samba. Even a recent viral meme making fun of a girl showing up to a date in Sambas actually showed them wearing Spezials. So yes, the Handball Spezial is a newly popular shoe, but it's not caught on to the point where people can really tell the difference between it and similar Adidas.

Horvath wearing the shoes had a bit of old school flair to it, which was picked up by some pundits. As mentioned, Adidas has a long history in Olympic weightlifting. And Tyler Watkins joked on The Sevan Podcast that Horvath was paying tribute to the Bulgarian weightlifting team of the ‘80s with her footwear choice. 

It’s unclear what impact Horvath’s shoe choice will have on Adidas’ trajectory in CrossFit. But it’s something we’ll remember, it’s something Spezial.