In the ancient games the competitors ran barefoot. However as the Greek empire extended many 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 obscure civilisation known as the Estruscans. They lived in North Italy and were well known for many crafts including sandal making. The Estruscans developed a technique to attach the sole of the sandal to the upper of the shoe with metal tacks. Before this sandals broke easily. As soon as tacks could hold the shoes together it coincidentally offered greater sole traction to the ground and the crude running shoe was developed. The greatest challenge to the Romans was how the track shoe could be held next to the foot and this was achieved by using tongs to wrap around the foot and leg.
After the end of the games and the Fall of the Roman Empire the craft of sandal making was almost lost. Throughout the Middle Ages sports were played in different cultures but it was the British in the 17th and 18th centuries who appeared to keep up the Greek traditions of racing in a straight line. As the influence of the British Empire with its concentration on militaria and discipline permeated throughout Europe and the colonies, many were taken with the idea of competition and fair play.
Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin 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. More recently the athletic sandal has made several reappearances and in different guises. The exercise sandal was very popular during the nineteen sixties and early seventies. 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. They 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 entrepeneur she might be proud of, none the less. Fourteen years ago Thatcher lost his job as a geophysist. His hobby was white water rafting and he began to concentrate more and more on the sport. A source of continual annoyance to Thatcher and his friends was the flip flops they had would 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.
Run The Planet thanks the Department of Podiatry of the Curtin University of Technology (www.curtin.edu.au) for the permission to reprint part of the article "The History of Sport Shoes" by Cameron Kippen. The Curtin University of Technology is Western Australia's largest university and a world-class, internationally focused institution. Text © by the Curtin University of Technology.