Why Soviet special forces wore Adidas sneakers?

The original article is in Russian and was written by Ekaterina Sinelshchikova, and published on Yandex. BulgarianMilitary.com is not responsible for the opinion expressed in the article.

MOSCOW, ($1= 74.28 Russian Rubles) – The entire Soviet Olympic team was dressed up in Adidas sneakers, then sold under a completely different brand, and then they sent special forces to Afghanistan.

Even though the Western way of life and everything that was produced there was officially despised and considered “immoral” in the Soviet Union, the Soviet authorities cooperated with the West quite actively. Such connections were not publicly advertised; evidence of them was preserved in internal reports and the foreign press. One such secret alliance was with Adidas.

Secret contracts

After World War II, it was the Olympic Games that became one of the main platforms for advertising sports goods, even if it was indirect and unofficial. Any company dreamed that its products would be on the best athletes. In this regard, the union was especially attractive: Soviet athletes were among the strongest, and the country’s closedness attracted increased attention.

It is believed that the alliance between Adidas and the USSR took place in 1980 when Moscow hosted the Olympics, but it all started long before that.

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Viktor Saneev, three-time Olympic pole vaulting champion, training with a barbell. (c) Givi Kikvadze, Felix Krymsky / TASS

In the note of the Committee on Physical Culture and Sports under the Council of Ministers of the USSR in the Central Committee of the party in 1979, entitled “On the issue of cooperation with the firm “Adidas” [Germany]”, it is noted that with the German company “Sports Committee of the USSR has been in constant cooperation for 20 years”.

Other Western brands also ended up on Soviet athletes. In 1965, The New York Times, citing the AP agency, reported an order for 46 pairs of shoes for basketball players, which the American Converse Rubber Company received from the USSR.

The explanation for the double standards of the Soviet regime was trivial: they did not make good competitive sports shoes here – there were no technologies or materials. But it was necessary to get out of the situation somehow. And in the case of Adidas, a solution was also found.

‘Hide’ three stripes

So, in the second half of the 1970s, the Soviet leadership began formalizing official relations with Adidas. The company became a supplier for the upcoming Olympics, and the bulk of the supply was modern sports shoes. But in 1979, Soviet troops entered Afghanistan, which became the reason for an international boycott and a strong cooling in relations with the West. As a result, 65 countries, including Germany, refused to participate in the Olympics, and the “official supplier” found itself in a difficult situation, because he had already paid generously for this title. I had to continue playing in difficult circumstances. In addition, as follows from some documents, Horst Dassler, the chairman of the board of Adidas, actually served as a foreign policy adviser to the Soviet side during the period of tension around the Games – he informed officials about the mood in other countries.

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Sergei Bubka (Ukrainian), Honored Master of Sports of the USSR, world record holder, European and world champion in pole vaulting. (c) Yuri Somov / Sputnik

The Soviets, in turn, made their tough demands on capitalist business. First, it was necessary to remove all the logos and the Adidas name, so that the Western manufacturer would not flicker either in photographs or videos with Soviet athletes. Secondly, the entire production of this batch had to be transferred to the USSR, and then the equipment had to be left here.

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At one of the enterprises of the company “Adidas”, cooperating with the Soviet Union. (c) T. Kulbitskaya / TASS

For this, the USSR acquired a license to manufacture sneakers from Adidas. For a German company, this was a normal practice, at that time the USSR became the twentieth country in which shoes were produced under the Adidas license. In addition to the license itself, the Germans had to purchase equipment, chemical raw materials, and other necessary materials. According to the results of the examination, only three types of artificial materials that the Soviets had were suitable for the production of such shoes.

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Women’s handball team of Kiev “Spartak”, 11-time champion of the USSR. (c) V. Sedachev / Sputnik

The model was produced here, based on the iconic Gazelle silhouette, in several colors. At the same time, she practically did not get on the shelves: some were immediately exported, some were exported to the Soviet national team. Moreover, the latter got sneakers only in blue colors [because of which it was assumed that others simply did not exist]. The recognizable three stripes on the sides were left, but at the same time, they completely changed the logo and replaced the Adidas inscription with “Moscow”. Domestically, these sneakers were also called “Moscow”.

It was then that the Soviet people en masse wanted to walk in sneakers: “Before [the Olympics] there was no particular cult [sneakers]. They wore them more like sports shoes and, for example, it was not accepted to wear sneakers to work in a decent organization,” recalled one of her contemporaries. “Before the Olympics, there were a lot of materials about athletes with photos, especially foreign ones, cinematic sketches … And everyone looked closely and decided that sneakers with jeans were a wonderful option for everyday clothes, and they began to chase them. And sneakers, even domestic ones, suddenly turned into a terrible shortage.”

By the way, they also tried to sew their jeans in the Soviet Union, but the attempt failed – they were not at all similar to what was popular in the same United States. Realizing that the same story could happen with sneakers, Adidas introduced a strict selection of personnel.

Misha Ulikhanyan, director of the Yeghvard sports shoe factory, which has been producing licensed Adidas products since 1985, recalls: “The Germans came here, hired young girls under 23 years old, they did not take older ones. Older people were not allowed to take. And [there was a condition] that they did not work before and did not have a specialty. Because at this age they have not yet filed their hand to release a hack. So that they learn only Adidas sewing so that they do not have experience in the production of low-quality shoes.”

‘Cool’ footwear for special forces

As a result, the shoes made in the USSR were not inferior in quality to those made in Germany. And this is partly why the Moskva sneakers, a kind of Adidas rebranding, got there, which is why they boycotted the Olympics – in Afghanistan.

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Soviet boots made too much noise when walking and were not suitable for mountain climbing. (c) Reuters

The fact is that the standard set of Soviet equipment was not very suitable for the rocky terrain of Afghanistan, and most of the problems were with shoes: Soviet boots made too much noise when walking and were not suitable for climbing mountains.

Why Soviet special forces wore Adidas shoes?
Soviet commanders opposed the publication of photos of soldiers in sneakers in the press. (c) Reuters

Then members of elite units, such as the Airborne Forces and Special Forces, were allowed to improvise: to pick up light, versatile shoes suitable for the area themselves. The choice fell on the Moskva sneakers, although there was a certain incident in this: “Whenever possible, the commanders put their soldiers in tennis shoes,” mentioned in the report of the US Office of Military Research in 1995.

Soviet commanders also understood this, so they opposed the publication of photos of soldiers in sneakers in the press. As rare exceptions to the press, they nevertheless got into … and made the Moskva sneakers a cult. The “coolness” of these sneakers has grown to the point that this model has been immortalized almost everywhere where Soviet soldiers and Afghanistan appear [and then Chechnya, where they also walked in sneakers]: in films, military reenactments, game figures, and game settings.

The production of “Moscow” ceased only in 2011, when to replace them in the army adopted more advanced footwear, created specifically for the military as part of the reform.

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