Born in 1980, I look back on the 80s and 90s with great fondness. My passion for trainers (or sneakers for any non Brits) developed during those years. It was, in my opinion, the time when the best, most beautiful trainers were developed. It was the dawn of the ‘Trainer Space Race’. Why Space Race? Because Marion Frank Rudy, a NASA engineer, kicked the whole thing off in 1979, with the development of Nike’s Air Cushioning Technology.
The ‘Trainer Space Race’
Sneakerheads show a lot of love for original and re-released trainers from the 80s and 90s. Those decades were defined by a myriad of proprietary technologies: Pump, Hexalite and ERS from Reebok; Torsion, APS and Tubular from Adidas; Disc and CEL from Puma, not to mention Nike’s AIR, and of course, ASICS’ GEL. These technologies were largely a response to the burgeoning running boom of the time. By then runners had started to overtake joggers. The growing ranks of runners demanded greater shock absorption, support and control than their jogging forebears.
A pivotal moment in this ‘Trainer Space Race’ was ASICS release of its groundbreaking GEL technology in 1986, shortly followed in 1987 by Nike’s first visible Air Cushioning with the Air Max 1.
Seeing is believing
Both companies took a ‘seeing is believing strategy’. Nike’s heel unit air bubble provided a literal window into their cushioning technology. But ASICS took a different approach. They illustrated the actual, practical benefit of GEL in action by filming an egg being dropped from a height of six meters onto a GEL pad. The egg remained in tact. Enough said.
The stakes were high and a raft of ‘futuristic’ technologies followed from all of the major players. Each of these technologies arrived with a big fanfare, but each bubble quickly burst. The Reebok Pump with its inflatable bladder captured the imagination of sports fans and sneakerheads around the world. Pumps looked cool. They were expensive and definitely made you stand out. But what did they actually do apart from exercise your thumb and forefinger and swell up around your feet?
Popping the bubble
Pump this tongue, turn that disc, inflate this heel… All those things were cool. And they still hold a place in the hearts of true sneakerheads. But at the end of the day they weren’t much more than a load of inflatable air. Much to our parents’ annoyance, my friends and I used to ‘modify’ our Nike Airs and Reebok Hexalites by popping them with a pin or compass needle. Having ‘modified’ them, in order to maximize cushiness, our trainers would squelch rainwater from their defunct air pockets.
But you couldn’t pop ASICS GEL. It was, and still is, the best cushioning technology invented. ASICS GEL has proven to be more than a passing fad. GEL technology has gone the distance and continues to propel runners forward around the world. As you’ve heard in the video: ‘If you’re wearing anything else, you’re getting blown out’. Enough said.