The History of Track Spikes

Written by michelle leach
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The History of Track Spikes
Track spikes are a pre-World War II invention but have gone through many technological innovations over the years. (full stride runner image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com)

Track spikes have been around for a long time---since the early 1900s, according to Patrick Milroy's and Joe Puleo's 2010 book "Running Anatomy." Though these traction and performance-enhancing shoes are by no means new to the market, their present form is dramatically different from their early predecessors, thanks to an evolved understanding of the science behind running and, in turn, technology to accommodate runners' needs, according to athletic gear company adidas.

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Earliest

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, if you were a golfer you wore the same shoe as a baseball player or a runner---no distinctions were made between sports, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. These earliest athletic shoes cost £3 to £4 and featured a very simple leather upper and gum soles (later leather soles). That all changed with Adi Dassler. Widely regarded as the founder of the speciality athletic shoe market, Dassler introduced the world to shoes with spikes and studs in 1925---five years after making his first pair, which was a canvas trainer for runners, according to the adidas Group.

Olympics

The then new, spiked shoes made their Olympic debut in 1928 at the Amsterdam Games, according to the adidas Group. Eight years later, at the Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens went on to win four gold medals while wearing Dassler's shoes. At the time, these earliest incarnation of spikes were made of a supple leather, sewn to a more rigid, leather sole. This sole was outfitted with a non-removable set of nails whose purpose was to provide better traction on dirt tracks, according to "Running Anatomy."

All-Weather Tracks

It was the transition from cinder tracks to all-weather, rubberised tracks in the 1960s and 1970s that gave the use of spikes--by now universal--even more importance in enhancing performances. Previous surfaces of tracks, could not, by their nature, provide enough traction for spikes. This springier and resistant surface could provide increased traction and not slow the runner down, all while being "spike resistant." The spikes changed themselves to smaller nails which wouldn't tear up the track.

Phenomenon

The switch to all-weather tracks happened around the same time the U.S. was going through a "running craze" of sorts. It was during this time period---the mid-1960s to mid-1970s---that interest in specialised shoes with spikes was rejuvenated, according to "Running Anatomy." This interest in running also prompted advancements with regard to shoe technology: cushion in the midsole and nylon uppers were among the advancements, which were also prompted by Runners World's magazine concerted effort to scientifically test each shoe---in turn holding the manufacturer accountable for a sturdy, quality, performance shoe.

Technology

Some of the most cutting-edge advancements in the spikes' history have included the addition of asymmetrical spikes and the development of a special plate to affix the spikes---made of materials formerly only available to the aerospace and auto industries, according to adidas. This technology took two years to develop and was debuted by 400-meter athlete Jeremy Wariner in 2008. Adidas contends the asymmetry of the spikes allows long-distance sprinters like Wariner the ability to take advantage of turns on the track where races can be won or lost, and the lighter materials don't "catch" on the track, creating lag as the spike digs into the track.

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