1998 – Tegla Loroupe

Source: Unknown (please contact me if this is your photo)

19-Apr-1998 – Rotterdam Marathon – 2:20:47 – Nike Air Streak
Date of birth: 9-May-1973
Nationality: Kenyan
World Record duration: 1 year, 5 months, 7 days

The athlete:                
Tegla Loroupe had made her mark early, winning on debut at the 1994 New York City Marathon, after being knocked back for the 1993 event for being too young. She would back this up and defend her title in 1995. This would be followed by more victories including the half-marathon world championships in 1997. Lining up for the 1998 Rotterdam Marathon, Loroupe would be the defending champion.

There was however no guarantee she would win. It was in fact miraculous that she even made the start. Loroupe had started suffering issues in 1996, and by 1997 was checked by doctors. They found she had two stress fractures in her spine, and risked paralysis without treatment. Wearing a back brace, she would spend months in recovery. She would eventually quit using the brace, doctors finding that it impinged nerves in her back, and more importantly her stress fractures had healed.

She got back into training, and started her first marathon in January at the 1998 Osaka Marathon. Come time for the Rotterdam Marathon, Loroupe was bullish, and said she was gunning for the world record set by Ingrid Kristiansen back in 1985. The two had met back in 1996, Kristiansen telling Loroupe she could be the one to break the record.

The first half of the race had Loroupe two seconds outside of the pace needed, but in the next nine kilometres a slight breeze put her behind by nearly a minute. Loroupe was known to finish strong, and between the 30th and 35th kilometres she clawed back the time lost. The final seven kilometres would have her make back the lost time, and when she crossed the finish line the world record was hers.

Some criticised her use of pacers, but Loroupe said that the men also benefitted from such assistance. In her case, she said they were also necessary to protect her from male runners trying to get in front of the cameras focussed on her. She put it best, saying she still had to run the race. It would not be her last, Loroupe now well and truly recovered from the injuries that almost ended her career.

The shoes:                   

The Nike Air Streak series was the brainchild of Nike’s first Japanese creation team, with the first models of the line launched in 1995. By 1998 the Air Streak had evolved further, staying true to its lightweight origins and still featuring air units front and rear.

Although I only have one image from Loroupe from the event, the shoes on her feet are quite distinctive with their neon yellow overlays. It has been difficult to find contemporary catalogue picture as well, but the picture here matches what she wore in both 1998 and 1999.

Nike has not retroed the Air Streak we see here, but the Air Streak Light from 1996 returned to shelves in 2020 various colourways. The primary difference with that model is that it eschewed the front air unit to save weight compared with the Air Streak.

References:                 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tegla_Loroupe 
https://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/20/sports/marathon-loroupe-sets-world-record.html
https://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/27/sports/1998-new-york-marathon-tegla-loroupe-s-race-for-respect.html
https://worldathletics.org/news/news/tegla-loroupe-sets-new-world-marathon-best-in
https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303843104579169881599887664
http://blog.eastbay.com/all/eastbay-memory-lane-1996-road-racing-flats/
https://www.nike.com/au/running/nike-running-dna-the-roots-of-fast