Monday, July 31, 2017
Sport Sandals: Origins of Athletic Shoes
In the ancient games the competitors ran barefoot but as the Greek Empire extended more athletes from colder climates came to race wearing sandals. At first spectators and barefoot competitors treated these as a novelty and sign of parochialism. As soon as shod athletes became winners then public opinion changed and the wearing of sandals was viewed with great suspicion and associated with cheats. Eventually once it was recognised the sole of the sandal increased ground traction and propelled the leg forward with greater efficiency most athletes adopted the running sandal.
The sole of the sandal needed to be securely attached to the foot and this necessitated leather thongs wrapped to the ankle and sometimes above. Between the Greek and Roman Civilisations there existed a small, almost obscured civilisation known as the Etruscans. They lived in North Italy and were well known for many crafts including sandal making. The Etruscans developed a technique to attach the sole of the sandal to the upper of the shoe with metal tacks. Before this time sandals were flimsy and broke easily. Tacks held the shoes together and coincidentally offered greater sole traction to the ground. This simple innovation was the beginning of the running shoe.
The Romans faced another challenge with the crude track shoes, how best secure it next to the foot and this was achieved by using tongs (leather ties) wrapped around the foot and leg. After the Fall of the Roman Empire the craft of sandal making was almost lost to the world.
Throughout the Middle Ages sports were played in different cultures but it was the Scots who kept the running race alive. The origin of the Highland Games predates recorded history. It is known King Malcolm III (1031-1093) summoned contestants to the Braes O' Mar (Braemar) for a foot race to the summit of Craig Choinnich. He was determined to find the fittest soldiers and fastest runners to serve. This barefoot event, the ‘gille-ruith’ or running footmen, may have been the origin of the highland games. It is possible the King's wife, Margaret, a well educated woman, had read about the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece.
In their original form the Highland games revolved around athletic and sports competitions and invariably involved chieftains who were often very athletic. These popular events were not always restricted to the Highlands with games known to be held in the village of Ceres (Fife) shortly after the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The games were decreed by King Robert the Bruce as a celebration of Fife villagers who had returned from the battle field and have been have been held annually ever since. The Ceres Games are the oldest free games in Scotland.
When Baron Pierre de Coubertin (a close friend of Prince Albert) saw a display of Highland games at the Paris Exhibition of 1889 he was inspired to plan the revival of the Olympic Games. Today the Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the Cowal Games, held in Dunoon, Scotland, every August, is the largest Highland games in Scotland attracting around 3,500 competitors and somewhere in the region of 23,000 spectators from around the globe. As the influence of the British Empire with its concentration on militaria, muscular Christianity and discipline permeated throughout Europe and the colonies, many were taken with the idea of competition and fair play. The Baron saw a window of opportunity and wanted to bring trading nations together on the field of athletics. This was a good commercial opportunity for suppliers to manufacture sport's clothing and footwear.
The athletic sandal made several fashion crossovers and in different guises. The exercise sandal was very popular during the nineteen sixties and early 70s. It was never very clear weather the shoe 'exercised' the foot by its intrinsic shape, or was the ideal footgear, to take exercise in. Shaped like the sole of the foot the shoe combined the properties of a simple sandal with a clog. These remain popular to the present day.
With the introduction of extreme sport such as water rafting, the athletic sandal has been given a new lease of life. The trend started by Mark Thatcher, not the male offspring of Baroness Thatcher, but an entrepreneur she might be proud of. After Thatcher lost his job as a geophysicist he dedicated himself to his hobby of white water rafting. A source of continual annoyance to Thatcher and his friends was the flip flops they wore, constantly wash away. He designed a prototype sandal which would not leave the foot. The sandal with a heel strap was called Teva. This is Hebrew for "nature".
The natural sandal held fast even in the most trying of circumstances. The new sporting thongs come in a pretty price and would set you back as much as a pair of moderately priced sports shoes. The Teva success was repeated later with Crocs.
The Melbourne Olympics (1956), was the first televised Olympic event and when the Japanese swimming team appeared wearing getas (slip on clogs) prior to competition, the photo opportunity was enough for a clever shoe retailer to start selling jandals to the Kiwis, and thongs to the Australians. Now flip flops (Havaianas) are a world wide phenomenon.