12-Aug-1984 – Los Angeles Olympics – 2:09:21 – Nike Spiridon Gold
Date of birth: 18-Feb-1947
Olympic Record Duration: 24 years, 12 days
Carlos Lopes turned his attention to the marathon after many years of success in shorter distances. Having begun his athletics career in 1967, he would make his first Olympic appearance in 1972 in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre events. He would get faster as the years progressed, earning another shot at Olympic glory in 1976. Competing in the 10,000 metre event, Lopes secured a silver medal.
With injuries preventing him from taking his skills to the 1980 Olympics, Lopes turned his attention to the marathon. 1982 would see him attempt his first such event, which unfortunately he failed to finish. 1983 would show more promise, with Lopes missing out on winning the Rotterdam Marathon by seconds behind Rob De Castella.
1984 would see him attempting the marathon on the biggest stage of his career, one he had already stepped on in shorter distances, the Olympics. It also almost didn’t happen at all. Weeks out from the Olympics, Lopes was run down while out training in Portugal. Lopes recalls watching as his elbow went through the windscreen of the car, but by some miracle he had no broken bones.
The bruising on his hip was still there when he arrived in Los Angeles, but he only lost three days of training. It made little difference to his race; Lopes, in his words, felt like all cylinders were firing perfectly. He felt no real strain as he took the lead at 37 kilometres, saying he only had to increase his speed slightly, which meant his last 7.2 kilometres were completed at an average pace of 2:55 minutes per kilometre.
As history shows the gold medal was his, and in a time that was the new Olympic record. Particularly impressive is just how long that record stood for, with 24 years passing before anyone ran the marathon at the Olympics faster than Lopes. It would not be his last marathon record, and you can read about how he made the most of his swan song at the 1985 Rotterdam Marathon here.
The story goes that in 1984, Nike presented Lopes with two pairs of Nikes that had been made in Japan and shipped to Los Angeles five days before the Olympic marathon. One was in red, white and blue. The other was trimmed with gold. Lopes’ wife said he should wear the gold pair, to match the colour of the medal he would win.
Five days later, Lopes would hold up his shoes to show the world what he worn on the way to victory. His Olympic marathon record would stand unbeaten until 2008. The shoe was named the Nike Spiridon Gold, named after Spyridon Louis, the man who won the first Olympic marathon in 1896.
The Spiridon Gold was straightforward in its technology. It featured a nylon upper, a dual-density EVA foam midsole called Phylon for added stability, and the heel cup system Nike referred to as the Cobra Collar. The shoe weighed in at only 159 grams. Despite its pedigree, Nike has not brought back the Spiridon Gold from the vault. If you want a pair, they will need to be vintage.