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The sports shoes that helped Muhammad Ali and Serena Williams become champions

From Fred Perrys Green Flashes to Michael Johnsons gold Nikes, a new book celebrates the trainers that brought sporting victory and became style icons

The renown of sports shoes long outlives that of the sports stars who made them famous. Sneakers the ones that stick become legendary in their own right and leave their first adopters far behind. Who really thinks of Fred Perry when they see a pair of Dunlop Green Flashes which, incidentally, were much less green when Perry first wore them? Or of Chuck Taylor when they see a pair of Converse All Stars, ubiquitous 47 years after the basketball players death?

Fred Perry winning Wimbledon in 1936, and his Dunlop Green Flashes. Composite: Wimbledon Museum/Getty

Surprisingly, this disassociation holds even when a shoe carries a stars name, such as Stan Smiths, which have sold more than 40m pairs since their launch and are infinitely more recognisable than the American tennis player. (Now 69, Smith says that many people dont realise he is a person, not a shoe.)

Designer Aaron Cooper drew on his work with a kung-fu master to create a shoe that offered greater support and stability for Serena Williamss troublesome ankles: the Nike Court Flare. Composite: John Ly/Wimbledon Museum/Getty

In his book, Golden Kicks: The Shoes That Changed Sport, Jason Coles provides a correction to this uncoupling of sneakers from the stars who gave them life. Along with potted histories and anecdotes about each shoes greatest moments in action are pictures of the very models worn by their first owners.

Nottinghamshire shoemakers JW Foster & Sons pioneered the use of spikes, initially on the cricket pitch. By 1898, these soft leather shoes had transferred to the running track. Harold Abrahams wore a pair to win gold at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Composite: Michael Quiet/Getty

Here are Dick Fosburys Specials, handmade for him by Adidass Adi Dassler at a time when his high-jump flop technique was still frowned upon by the athletics establishment. You can see the stitches between the upper and the sole, the pressure points where the shoe had to give, the impressions of his toes in the puckered suede.

The US high jumpers unorthodox flop technique impressed Adidas founder Adi Dassler, who produced a prototype tailored to his jump style in time for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Composite: Adidas AG/Studio Waldeck/Getty

Some of these shoes have helped to shape style, some have revolutionised sport and some have done both. Stan Smiths, which thrive now precisely because they look so untechnical, were innovative when they first appeared in 1963, being made of leather when most tennis shoes were canvas.

At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Michael Johnson took gold in the 200m and 400m in his gold Nikes. Composite: John Ly/The Olympic Museum/Getty

Michael Johnsons gold Nike running spikes might communicate the sort of swagger for which the sprinter was known, but photographed here it is their suppleness that really strikes; each shoe weighs only 85g (3oz) and the soft wrinkles of the leather cave inwards, as if searching for Johnsons feet. They really did help him to gold in the 1996 Olympics, but only after Nikes technicians studied hours of footage of him running, as a result of which the left and right shoes differed to accommodate the distinct movement of each foot. Then, as now, sports design was all about the margins.

In this context, the odd lo-fi shoe, such as the Asics slip of suede worn by US gymnast Kerri Strug the same year Johnson wore his gold Zytels, seems anachronistic.

At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Kerri Strug, a 19-year-old from Tuscon, Arizona, clinched gold for the womens team on her final move, despite an earlier fall. In crushing pain, she was carried to the podium by coach Bla Krolyi, still wearing her simple Asics gym shoes. Composite: John Ly/Olympic Museum Collection, Getty

Other inclusions, such as Muhammad Alis boxing boots with swinging red tassels bought and sewn on by the Adidas rep the night before a big fight are amusingly idiosyncratic.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2016/sep/19/sports-shoes-trainers-muhammad-ali-serena-williams-champions