OPINION PIECE: TOOLS OF THE TRADE

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I have always loved the sport of Track and Field.

Why?  Because I was always faster than my friends and family!

Speed is like a magic “superpower” when you are a child. You run with ease on the school fields amongst your friends while you play all types of children’s games. Your friends acknowledge this magical “superpower” you have, which in turn feeds the quest for more acknowledgement, which means the quest for more speed.

So, what makes athletes faster? 

We may all agree on certain elements: having an experienced coach, eating well, resting adequately and remaining injury free. While yes, these are all important, very rarely are the tools of the trade considered.

What are the tools of trade? One crucial one is the Track Spike, but as a spectator we generally sit watching the fastest moving humans on earth run and jump with very little understanding of the spike and its importance to the development of Athletics.

So here is a bit of interesting history and trivia (as well as some of my thoughts on the matter):

Who invented the first Track Spike?

Industry experts agree that the British based company JW Foster and Sons created the first track spikes. His sons went on to create the UK base company called REEBOK.

When was it invented?

The Company JW Foster was established in 1900. They began distributing shoes across the United Kingdom to British athletes, but were made famous in 1924 by 100m Olympic champion Harold Abrahams (the Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire was based on his achievements at these Games).

Why was it invented?

Legend has it that while repairing cricket boots, JW Foster was convinced that the spikes on the cricket shoe would give him and advantage in running and tested them in a middle-distance event. Obviously his theory was correct.

How much do they weigh?

The lightest spike recorded is 82 grams

How much do they cost?

They vary from entry level to elite, but on average they cost between USD $50.00 – USD $300.00

What are the key spike brands?

PUMA, Nike, adidas, Reebok, ASICS, Under Armour, New Balance, Saucony, Brooks

How many medals were won at the Rio Olympic Games by which brands? *based on percentages of total running and jumps events.

How did the invention of the spike influence other sports?

I sit here contemplating the importance of the spike in the development of track and field as a sport and as a business. There is no doubt that without the invention, and more importantly the continued development of the spike, the sport would not be as fast (or high and long) as it is today. But, running and speed are the basis for so many sports, be it Rugby, Soccer, NFL, NBA or Field Hockey – speed is key. If these codes used footwear similar to the first spikes (thick, heavy cowhide designed with metal studs) they too would not have accelerated in growth popularity. So many sports owe a debt of gratitude to this innovation within Track & Field.

How is speed commercialized?

The Oxford dictionary defines it as: the rate at which somebody/something moves or travels.

Be it in sport or business, I have yet to come across a person that doesn’t want to travel forward in some way (often as quickly as possible). For athletics this definition is the very basis of performance, and without the innovation of spikes we might not have seen the rise in the multiple record-breaking achievements by athletes.

(Of course, I also understand that the spike is not solely responsible for all human achievements or records over the past decades.)

These achievements are then measured and ranked by magazines and Word Athletics, and these rankings are in turn commercialised by the shoe companies.  This is where the business of Track and Field starts for athletes. Any young athlete knows that winning a Gold medal at the World Juniors (in an exceptional time, height, or distance) is a precursor to shoe companies offering them a professional shoe contract. Performance is king and an athlete can say they have ‘turned pro’ when they sign that first shoe contract.

These shoe contracts – given the correct event, world record or Olympic medal – can often translate into very healthy cash incentives for athletes. Signing a shoe deal, which in Track and Field is specifically the spike deal, is one of the pivotal transitions for an athlete amongst the many transitions throughout their careers. For many athletes it’s also a social mobility tool, with the contract setting them on a path to better opportunities than they had before … if they recognise and utilise it.

In closing, the Track Spike is more than a tool of the trade, it is a symbol of great human potential for those who use their “superpowers”.

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