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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

October 25, 2012

KARHU: Both Adidas and Nike Got Something from this Finnish Brand

I visited  the Wandering Jouster site  of my favorite Bicolana blogger, and I got to enjoy her latest blog entry entitled “Shoe Talk”  which was about  the 7 leading global brands of running shoes and their history.  Informative stuff about Adidas, Nike, Puma, KSwiss, Reebok, Asics and Mizuno. 

Allow me to add one name to that list:  KARHU.

It is a legendary sports brand from Finland.  It dates back to 1916, predating all 6.  

Karhu logo

Karhu is a Finnish word that means Bear.  Known for its efficiency-driving innovation, the Karhu running shoes have been worn by the “Flying Finns” that have dominated the long distance running in the decades before and after World War 2. Legendary names like Paavo Nurmi (1920 Olympics Gold Medalist in 10,000 meters and cross country; 1924 Olympics Gold Medalist in 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters and cross country; and 1928 Olympics Gold Medalist in 10,000 meters) and  Eino Oksanen  (Boston Marathon winner in 1959, 1961 and 1962) have worn the Karhu shoes to numerous victories.  Even the Czech great Emil Zatopek wore Karhu when he bagged 3 gold medals (5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and marathon)  at the 1952 Olympics  in Helsinki, Finland. 

Karhu shoes worn by Emil Zatopek at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics

Now, if you would be doing  a double take at the picture above and guess that it is  an Adidas, you would be forgiven.  I too did a double take.  However, the three stripes brand was originally Karhu’s.  It was in  1951 that  Karhu sold the three stripes trademark it had been using to a then little known German brand called Adidas.  The Price?  Two bottles of whiskey and the equivalent of 1,600 euros.

The current M-Logo of Karhu was used starting in the 1960s which saw the company back to its pioneering mood.  Its innovation in this decade and the 1970s included the use of nylon and air cushioning in running shoes.  Say what?  We thought air cushioning technology in running shoes was first introduced by Nike.  Another surprising fact is that Karhu is  the original inventor of the Air Cushioned shoe. It was in the 1970s that Karhu figured something was needed to carry the weight of the runner and absorb the pressure of the knees. After considering installing a spring in the shoe (LOLZ), they came up with  the Karhu Champion, which is the first model using the Air Cushion sole.  Take a look at the picture below.

1975: University of Oregon’s Hayward Field
It is a picture of  a group of Finnish world class athletes taken in 1975 at University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, revered as the birthplace of Nike.  In front of the athletes is  a pair of  orange running shoes – the Karhu Champion.  The first Nike running shoe with an air sole system to come out is the "Tailwind" and it debuted in 1978 at the Honolulu Marathon.  In terms of patents, Karhu registered “Karhu Air Cushion” in 1976. Nike registered “Air” in 1977.  Looking at the pictures of the Karhu Champion and Nike Tailwind, one can deduce that the latter did the copying of the former.
1975 Karhu Champion

1978 Nike Tailwind

But in the mid-80s, after extensive research collaboration with the University of Jyväskylä, Karhu bailed out of air cushioning in favor of the Fulcrum technology. While the rest of the global brands like Nike,  Reebok and Asics  and Nike were outfitting their shoes with air pockets and gels, Karhu focused on a simpler applied science which is premised on the idea that running is about moving forward, and not up and down. What is fulcrum technology?  I quote from the Your Mileage May Vary Reviews  blog at http://ymmvreviews.com/:

Fulcrum helps the runner run more efficiently.  It helps transfer energy form the foot strike into forward motion. It reduces vertical and horizontal movement and puts the runner in a better forward leaning position. This all helps move the runner quicker through the gait cycle to run faster with less energy.  Karhu has done testing with the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and Iowa State University in the US. All the test results have shown that Karhu shoes produce less vertical and horizontal oscillation and a better midfoot landing position than both traditional running shoes and barefoot running.”

Fulcrum Technology

Please visit the Karhu website at http://karhu.com/ for  more information and videos.

This focus  on fulcrum technology continues for Karhu up to this day.  As can be seen in the pictures below, the current crop of Karhu running  shoes being offered in the market (Fast3 and Forward) are very very nice to look at.  As to how they perform on an actual  run, I have no first hand knowledge given that Karhu is not available here in the Philippines.  

Fast3 Fulcrum Price: US$ 134.95

Forward Fulcrum Ride Price: US$ 129.99
I must admit, this fulcrum technology from Scandinavia intrigues me.  Maybe, it will be a big help to improving the running form and performance of many  penguins like me (A penguin can dream of running faster and more efficiently than usual).  

One take away after encountering Karhu and its rich history:  a company whose ideas Adidas and Nike have adopted must be doing something right and it is in their DNA. 

Now, if only Karhus are more affordable and available here.......  

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