Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Wimbledon -- It's Gotta Be the Shoes

Picture: Knee Knocking Addidas Shoes from1998

Answer: Da shoes. Question:  Why did Steffi Graf have to retire from women's professional tennis?

Mrs. Linklater loves anything tennis. She started playing when she was seven, so there is probably some cat gut in her DNA by now. 

Injuries prevent her from playing these days, but she still watches all the televised tournaments.  Which is why she was up at 6:00 AM today to catch Wake Up to Wimbledon on ESPN2. 

There's a commercial running during Wimbledon with a little tiny kid about three years old, taking on an adult opponent.  And he spanks him pretty good. 

When it's all over a van drives up, the window rolls down, and Andre Agassi with Steffi Graf beside him, calls out to the kid, who happens to be their son. He runs to the car, carrying a racket which is almost as big as he is.

Cute spot. Great family genetics. Can't wait to see what the future brings.

That commercial got Mrs. Linklater thinking about Steffi Graf and why she quit playing.  Or at least why Mrs. Linklater thinks she had to quit.

There were two things Mrs. Linklater noticed about the year Steffi left tennis.  1) She was wearing a pair of Addidas shoes. And 2) she started having problems with her knees. One in particular, if memory serves.

That same year, Mrs. Linklater noticed that she was playing tennis in the same pair of Addidas tennis shoes as Steffi Graf. Hey, I must be doing something right, she thought. Steffi's wearing MY shoes.

The difference was Mrs. Linklater wasn't tied into an exclusive contract with one manufacturer, so she also had several other pairs of tennis shoes she could choose from -- from Wilson to Nike to New Balance to Avia.  And she rotated them pretty regularly.

She originally bought the Addidas because they were the most comfortable pair of tennis shoes she had ever tried on. They surrounded her feet with a softness and cushion that was like nothing she'd ever felt in any kind of shoe before.

She couldn't wait to get on the court to play in them.

But over time she noticed something else.  Whenever she played in that pair of Addidas shoes, her knees would hurt. And they had never, ever bothered her before.

She'd never had knee surgery.  In fact, except for one bad slide into third base, she'd never strained her knees in any way. She'd even stayed away from sports like skiing which could do real knee damage.

Then she noticed something else. Her knees didn't hurt at all when she wore any of her other tennis shoes.  Only when she wore the Addidas.

That's when Mrs. Linklater began hearing sportscasters say that Steffi Graf was having knee troubles. She also noticed during one televised match that Steffi was still wearing the Addidas shoes. 

There are round treads on the bottom of most tennis shoes. Usually on one side, near the ball of the foot. The current Addidas shoes are like that.

On the Addidas shoes in question from the late 1990's, there are three round treads. They extend beyond the width of the shoe on both sides, like stabilizers.  One on the inside and two along the outside. 

The only problem is, they're so stabilizing that they freeze your foot in one position while your leg is moving in another. The torque causes enormous stress on your knees. 

Mrs. Linklater wouldn't have ever blamed the shoes if Addidas had been the only brand she wore. Like Steffi. But she wore several different brands. So she was able to trace the problem.

When Steffi quit playing at thirty, Mrs. Linklater wanted to contact her to say -- get a new pair of shoes --throw those Addidas shoes out. Your knees will be fine. You've got a few years left.

Then she got a grip and didn't bother.  Like Steff Graf wants shoe advice from a suburban soccer mom.

But Mrs. Linklater did save her own pair of shoes. They've been in her closet since 1999. Just in case anybody needs evidence.

After all, Martina Hingis sued her shoe manufacturer $40,000,000 for ruining her feet and therefore her career. And she's only twenty-something.

It could happen.


The New Addidas Shoes 2004




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