Engineers have been burning the midnight oil designing vast infrastructure, security and crowd control for Beijing's Olympic Games. Not to mention a better table-tennis shoe. Nike is using the Beijing Olympics as a springboard to help it gain a larger share of the Chinese market. MarketWatch's Andria Cheng reports. On a converted U.S. Army base in rural Herzogenaurach, Germany, six designers at Adidas have spent the past several years tinkering with specialized footwear for badminton, fencing and two dozen other sports ahead of the games. Among the challenges: Rowers must not sink with their boat, wrestlers shouldn't be able to untie shoelaces and -- perhaps most important -- nobody's feet should sweat too much. On the other side of the world in leafy Beaverton, Ore., a similar process has played out at the campus of Nike, where buildings are named for Olympians such as Steve Prefontaine. The Adidas archrival has rolled out specialty shoes for all 28 official Olympic sports this year. That's up from the 11 it designed at the 2004 Athens Games and one-ups Adidas, which is supplying 27 specialty shoes after steering clear of an equestrian model. 1 See some of the shoes Adidas and Nike have redesigned and will be showcasing at the Olympics. It's a serious business. Since China is the companies' most important growth market -- more than a billion pairs of feet -- they're in a neck-and-neck race for dominance. Both want to showcase their footwear technology during the Olympics and generate brand buzz -- even if they don't end up selling many archery or weight-lifting shoes. Each company prides itself on its history of inventiveness: Adidas founder Adi Dassler began designing shoes in his family's laundry room after World War I, while Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman forged his initial sole designs in his wife's waffle iron. The Games's official sportswear sponsor, Adidas, likes to point to its longer track record, having outfitted Olympians in Amsterdam in 1928 and, later, sprinter Jesse Owens and boxer Muhammad Ali. Corbis Adidas At left, Dick Fosbury wins gold at the 1968 Olympics; his shoe (bottom right) and the Adidas redesign (top right). But the boldest experiments don't always pan out. After the 1968 games, for example, Adidas invited U.S. high jumper Dick Fosbury to Herzogenaurach. He'd won gold in Mexico City with his revolutionary "Fosbury flop," turning the straddle technique on its head by going over the bar head and shoulders first. Adidas designed a new shoe with him in mind. "They didn't work. I tossed them," said Mr. Fosbury, now 61 years old and himself an engineer. He found the prototype too slippery and dubbed it the "Cyclops" because it replaced several spikes in the ball of the shoe with a single one. Mr. Fosbury says he appreciated the effort and still wears only Adidas running shoes: "I'm a loyal guy," he said. Getty Images; Adidas (Shoes) Muhammad Ali swings at Russia's Gennadiy Shatov in 1960; left, Mr. Ali's shoes (red stripes) and Adidas's redesign. Adidas expects to outfit more than 3,000 of the estimated 10,500 athletes. Consumers will be able to try on some of the Olympic specialty shoes at Adidas stores, and all of them will be on sale at Adidas's online site and catalog site eastbay.com. Nike says it's supplying "thousands" of athletes (like Adidas, free of charge). Nike isn't planning the same broad Olympics shoe campaign, but says many of its shoes will be available on Nike.com, as well as some retailers, later this month. The company is already selling its redesigned basketball and running shoes in China. As for smaller shoe companies, Japan's Mizuno and Asics, Germany's Puma and Adidas's Reebok unit are outfitting athletes and touting Olympic credentials, too, from volleyball to track and field. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tackling a Martial Art Change comes slowly for the age-old Chinese martial art of wushu. But this year, it's joining forces with the swoosh. In an unlikely move for a U.S. footwear company, Nike is joining the small Chinese market of wushu shoemakers. The modern version of the sport, a close cousin of kung fu, emphasizes aesthetic and athletic performance over basic fighting. While it isn't an official Olympic sport, an Olympic-sanctioned tournament will take place this summer. Getty Images That was enough for Nike to jump in. The shoes would have to survive a host of punishing moves: rapid accelerations and braking; 720-degree gymnastic-like spins; and the use of weapons including broadswords, staffs and double-edged swords (see picture). In a Beijing park, a four-person Nike team sought out septuagenarian Master Wu Bin, who was teaching hundreds of students, for his help. He agreed, and work eventually shifted to Nike's Beaverton, Ore., campus, where researchers slapped scores of reflective markers onto U.S. wushu athletes and their weapons while 16 high-speed video cameras recorded data. "Reflective markers were flying," said Jeff Pisciotta, who studies athlete biomechanics in the Nike lab. Researchers from the University of Beijing and the University of Shanghai eventually pitched in. Nike The final shoe, to be sold for $80 at Nike.com, uses sturdy kangaroo leather instead of the typical canvas and a lightweight gum rubber for more-precise pivoting during moves. An unexpected problem: painful shoelaces, because wushu athletes traditionally hit their shoes with their palms as part of their performance. Nike created pockets to hide shoelace tips for easier slapping. --Nicholas Casey -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Write to Mike Esterl at mike.esterl@wsj.com2 and Nicholas Casey at nicholas.casey@wsj.com3 URL for this article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121520521471229245.html Hyperlinks in this Article: (1) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121503691099624385.html (2) mailto:mike.esterl@wsj.com (3) mailto:nicholas.casey@wsj.com (4) http://online.wsj.com/page/2_1278.html (5) http://online.wsj.com/page/2_1278.html (6) javascript:OpenG('http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-flash08.html? project=TORCHROUTE')

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