How Adidas Outran Nike With Its $500 ‘Super Shoe’

Eliud Kipchoge wore Nike’s Alphafly prototype shoes during a 2019 attempt to run a marathon in less than two hours in Vienna. PHOTO: RONALD ZAK/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Eliud Kipchoge wore Nike’s Alphafly prototype shoes during a 2019 attempt to run a marathon in less than two hours in Vienna. PHOTO: RONALD ZAK/ASSOCIATED PRESS


Tigst Assefa’s record-breaking run in the Berlin Marathon delivered a much-needed victory for the German brand in the running-shoe arms race.

The new Adidas “super shoe" is designed to be worn only once—and to break world records.

Weighing in at 138 grams, or less than a third of a pound, the shoe is so lightweight that elite runners initially doubted it could hold up over a long race. Amanal Petros, a German runner who in 2021 set the national record in the men’s marathon, laughed uncontrollably when he first held it.

So when a handful of runners laced up the Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1 at the Berlin Marathon last weekend, the German sneaker giant’s executives and designers gathered in a tent near the finish line without knowing exactly what to expect.

Then Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa smashed the women’s world record by more than two minutes, while also beating her own time from last year’s race by nearly four minutes—huge margins in elite running. Five other athletes who wore the shoes also produced exceptional times, among them Petros, who broke his own national record in the men’s race.

“We were confident someone could run fast in the shoe," said Charlotte Heidmann, Adidas’s senior global product manager, “but breaking the record by two minutes is something everyone was astonished about."

Assefa’s winning run was a triumph for Adidas in the fiercely competitive arena of sports technology. It was also a welcome boost for a company still righting itself in the wake of the costly collapse of its Yeezy partnership with rapper Kanye West, who goes by Ye.

Adidas has endured a difficult period since terminating its partnership with West last year over his antisemitic remarks. The Yeezy collaboration was lucrative and had accounted for around 8% of Adidas’s total revenue.

The company recently said a turnaround plan was starting to deliver results, boosted by the decision to sell off leftover Yeezy inventory worth around $1 billion.

Adidas rival Nike has had its own tough run, with the value of its shares having fallen around 30% since May. Nike shares rebounded on Thursday, after the company reported a 2% increase in revenues compared with the same quarter last year, suggesting the company was regaining some momentum.

Nike said in a statement that it “pioneered the modern revolution of racing footwear technology" and that it has several prototype shoes being tested by its runners ahead of next year’s Paris Olympics.

Adidas made 521 pairs of the Pro Evo 1 available for sale in mid-September at a retail price of $500. They sold out within a few hours, demonstrating demand for the ultimate shoe among dedicated runners who care deeply about improving their personal bests. The company plans to put more on sale in November, said Patrick Nava, the company’s vice president for running and credibility sports.

Nike had led the race to develop a breakthrough running shoe since launching its first prototype super shoe at the 2016 U.S. Olympic marathon trials.

As controversy initially raged about the shoes’ legality, records started getting shattered. In 2018 in Berlin, Kenyan star Eliud Kipchoge broke the men’s marathon world record by more than a minute while wearing Nike super shoes. Last year he did it again in Nike’s latest update, the Alphafly 2.

Super shoes’ designs have evolved, but the elements remain the same: thick soles made with superlight, energy-returning foams and fitted with a rigid plate, often made of carbon fiber. The combination creates a springlike effect.

When super shoes first appeared, critics said they appeared to violate rules set by World Athletics, the sport’s global governing body, against footwear that provides an “unfair assistance or advantage." But in 2020 it effectively legalized Nike’s shoes by enacting rules limiting the thickness of the sole to no more than 40 millimeters and allowing carbon-fiber plates.

The ruling grandfathered in Nike’s pioneering shoes and its head start on the competition—until now.

To overcome Nike’s lead, the team based at Adidas headquarters in Germany changed the way it normally develops a shoe, said Heidmann. Instead of trying them out with ordinary consumers, Adidas technicians only tested the shoe with elite athletes, including a group of top runners in Kenya.

Adidas developers made breakthroughs on several separate components that were ultimately combined in the Pro Evo 1. In particular, the invention of new lightweight materials enabled the creation of a shoe weighing only 138 grams—60% of the weight of Adidas’s previous elite running shoe. Among them was a new rubber material for the shoe’s outsole that saved weight without sacrificing grip, Nava said.

In another innovation, the rocker—the shoe’s pivot point—was moved further backward after analysis suggested it would improve running economy. The sole itself is made of a new type of foam that, combined with the carbon-fiber forks that Adidas uses instead of plates, provides the bounce that helps the wearer go faster.

More-affordable products drawing on the new technology underpinning the Pro Evo 1 will hit the market in due course, Nava said. The shoe will next be worn by Adidas-sponsored athletes at marathons in Chicago and New York.

The Pro Evo 1 “is for the 1 percenters," said Nava. But “it’s important not just to cater to the elite. "

Though developed for single use, there’s no sign that the shoe significantly degrades after 26 miles and it can likely be reused, he said.

While it’s too soon to judge the shoe’s commercial impact, its effect on Adidas’s credibility as a developer of sports technology will be invaluable, Nava said.

“Who has the best marathon shoe right now? That’s a claim we put out there on Sunday."

Write to Trefor Moss at and Rachel Bachman at

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