Beaverton, Oregon: If the Olympics are a time for athletes to showcase their skills, then Nike sees it as a time to bring out its own best efforts.
On Monday, the company unveiled its Olympics 2008 line, its largest effort for the games ever. Nike created products in every sport at the games, ranging from BMX racing to equestrian jumping.
“We truly believe 2008 will be a defining moment for the industry, the brand, the athletes and the consumer,” said Kris Aman, Nike’s global general manager for the Beijing Olympics.
Nike is not an official sponsor of the games. Its rival Adidas is.
Nike’s position has traditionally been not to act as a sponsor of the event, but to be an outfitter for its athletes. And it has often used the opportunity to bring out the newest and boldest designs, such as the gold shoes Michael Johnson wore in 1996 when he won two gold metals in Atlanta or the head-to-toe body suit that Cathy Freeman wore in Sydney when she became the first Aborigine to win the gold in 2000.
“Some of our greatest moments as a brand and as a company have come under those five rings,” said Mark Parker, president of Beaverton-based Nike.
This year, the company will dress thousands of athletes from more than 100 countries. Some will look like superheros in track outfits with bright colored gloves and socks designed to reduce drag. Others will look like chilled armadillos in a vest filled with ice to help them keep their cool pre-event in Beijing’s sweltering heat.
As usual, the product is unusual.
It is the first year BMX will be a medal event at the games. And Nike’s global director for action sports, John Martin, also a self-professed bicycle motocross nut, told media the retro-styled gear is the “illest BMX product ever”. For those not up on the latest lingo, that means it is good.
The company has also created its lightest track shoe and basketball shoe ever, which is based on a webbing of ultra-resistent fibers that act as a basket to attach the sole and hold in the foot.
“The mix of competition and consumer product is some of the best we have ever done,” Parker said.
The Beijing Olympics is one of the most important and controversial games for the company.
It has millions of worldwide viewers and will bring the trademark “swoosh” closer to consumers in China, which is Nike’s second largest market after the US.
Roughly one of every three pairs of Nike shoes is made in China.
“I think the latest Olympics is always the biggest and most important,” Parker told The Associated Press. “China is particularly important because of what it represents _ this country, it’s impact on the world.”
The product lineup was released on the same day the Olympic torch’s path was waylaid by protesters in Paris. Protesters were already gathering in the US to speak out against China’s human rights record.
Some of the company’s athletes have spoken out against the country. And Kobe Bryant, who was onsite to unveil the basketball shoe, told reporters that it was an opportunity to raise awareness about what was going on.
“Every athlete has every right, which we support fully, to express their feelings, their position,” Parker said. “Our focus is on sports and helping athletes realize their potential.”
He said the 2008 Olympics is “one of the most important events from a sporting standpoint that anybody has ever seen. We’ll deliver on it.”