Mark Baker  /  AP file
Nike, sometimes accused for their aggressive marketing tactics, is once again outfitting some Olympic athletes. However, the apparel maker is now making their high-tech products available to everyday athletes, not just the elite.
updated 8/19/2004 6:19:00 PM ET 2004-08-19T22:19:00

One major U.S. corporation is spending millions of dollars on the Athens Games, and they aren't even an official sponsor.

Nike is in Athens in a big way, and is banking on Olympic exposure to help sell products all over the world.

Nike has outfitted individual Olympic athletes for competition for years. It has been accused of guerilla marketing at the games, but it has never really used the Olympics to market the same products to the public that the athletes are using.

Until now.

Nike has developed a new “swiftsuit” that many world-class swimmers in Athens are wearing.

“We don't even sew our seams together,” said Nike Senior Product Designer Matt Nordstrom. “Instead, we actually heat bond them together, which gives us a seam that stretches much better and it lies flatter so it's hydrodynamic profile is as minimal as possible.”

With 176 hours of tow tank testing, Nike unveiled the water borne second skin — an outgrowth of the track version unveiled in Sydney four years ago and the speedskating suit in Salt Lake City in 2002. But there's a new equation in Nike's effort — offering Olympic technology direct to the consumer.

“We spend a tremendous amount of time and energy and hours in researching these products with our elite athletes,” said Kellie Leonard of Nike Athens. “We do this all the time with our other products, bringing those insights to the consumer and we felt no better time than now.”

The direct marketing of innovation unveiled in Athens is a new tact for Nike, a company that has looked upon the Olympics in the past as a way to expose its logo to the world and as an experimental laboratory. And Nike going to the Olympics is much like NASA going to the moon — whatever happens to make its way into everyday life is nice, but not the point. Not so anymore.

“It may not be about aerodynamics or hydrodynamics, but it can certainly be about fit, comfort, thermo-regulation, so a lot of problems you're facing are the same as the elite athletes,” said Jordan Wand, global director at Advanced Innovation.

Nike has tested its products in a heat chamber set to 38 degrees Celsius — the exact conditions of Athens, both in temperature and humidity.

But most unique to Athens might be something called the "Pre-Core Vest," meant to help beat the Greek heat by lowering an athlete's core body temperature before a long race.

“And one of the interesting statistics, less than 25 percent of your body's energy goes to moving muscles,” said Scott Williams, a member of the Nike Innovation team. “Over 75 percent of your body's energy goes toward regulating heat.”

Nike, of course, is not alone in the pool with its swift suit. Speedo is also developing technology and pushing it both in Athens and in the United States.

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