The bear synonymous with speed, Karhu

From Paavo Nurmi to Emil Zatopek, from Olympic golds to innovation: the story of an iconic brand

It all started with the javelin, the discus, the skis, and most of all, the running shoes. Little is said about the origins of Karhu, little is written.

Yet behind this brand there are faces and legs that have indelibly entered the sporting legend: a brand that came from the far north and arrived on the Olympic podiums throughout the first half of the 20th century, and beyond.

THREE STRIPS LIKE ADIDAS? NO, LIKE KARHU

Let’s start this story with a curiosity. Karhu was founded as a small company in the heart of Helsinki: it was 1916, and the first name conceived for this activity was ‘Oy Urheilutarpeita’, a generic name referring to the production of sports equipment. Four years later, the first stylized drawing of a bear appeared on the premises of the small Finnish workshop. ‘Karhu’ in the Suomi language means bear: the animal that from that moment would become an epithet, as well as a symbol, of the company itself.

That’s not all, though. Karhu, immediately specialized in disciplines such as javelin and discus throwing, skiing and running, made himself recognizable by three strips applied methodically on each shoe. Three stripes: graphic concept that was purchased in 1952 by a particular German entrepreneur, that Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler who created Adidas. Legend has it that the ‘three stripes’ were bought for the equivalent of 1600 euros and two bottles of whiskey.

What is certain is that the minds behind Karhu did not pay too much attention to that original barter, they soon forgot the stripes and invented the M-Symbol which celebrates the Finnish word ‘Mestari’ (Champion): still in use today.

PAAVO NURMI AND THE FLYING FINNISHES

It is difficult to try to explain the impact of Paavo Nurmi on the Olympic Games in Antwerp 1920, Paris 1924 and Amsterdam 1928. The list of 9 golds and 3 silvers conquered by the native of Turku, an ancient Finnish capital clinging to the Swedish border, is not enough to describe a muscular omnipotence that radiated and elevated many of his fellow countrymen, generating the gusts of the so-called ‘Flying Finns’.

That group of Nordic arrows shot on the racing tracks by the Norse myth dominated international racing. Nurmi succeeded in something unthinkable when in the Parisian Olympics he won the 1500 and 5000 meters in just one hour, setting the new Olympic record in both cases. He, Hannes Kolehmainen, Ville Ritola and all the other Finnish medium and long distance runners had one thing in common: the Karhu branded shoes.

A LOCOMOTIVE NAME EMIL ZATOPEK

They called him ‘Human Locomotive’, he claimed he had too little talent to run and smile at the same time. Emil Zatopek is the emblem of physical suffering sublimated into a sporting result: with his face tilted to the side, his tongue hanging out and his back arched, he is, and always will be, an image of glorious fatigue, of imperfect excellence.

The pinnacle of his athletic legend came as a strange coincidence in Helsinki 1952, where the Czechoslovakian won three golds in the 5,000, 10,000 meters and marathon. In all the races he ran with the local Karhu at his feet. The marathon, the last great appointment of the Games and the most steeped in historical sense, saw Zatopek line up at the starting line without any specific previous preparation. Before then, in fact, the Czechoslavian runner had never run a race over that distance. The result was an amazing time of 2h23’03 ”.

In those Scandinavian Games Karhu ‘won’ a total of 15 golds: a legacy to be proud of, a sporting past that has never ceased to inhabit the essence of this brand, as evidenced by the first license for Air Cushion on running shoes deposited in the 1970s, the Fulcrum technology studied over the following decade with the University of Jyväskylä and the much more recent Ort Fix invention for soles. Who would have thought that that Nordic bear would have affected the world of sports so deeply…

FROM THE OLYMPIC GOLDS TO THE CONTEMPORARY BEAR

As demonstrated by the first license for Air Cushion on running shoes filed in the 1970s, the Fulcrum technology. As shown by innovations aimed at greater propulsive thrust and studied over the following decade with the University of Jyväskylä. As demonstrated by the much more recent Ort Fix sole invention.

But that’s not all. This is also demonstrated by the recent LEGEND FW21 capsule, able to connect Karhu’s sporty heritage with the collegiate universe. The 80s American university outfit, in this latest creation of the brand of Finnish origin, is embellished by the constant presence of sport: an idea certified by the reference to the concept of collegiate ‘team’ and the famous bear logo, here reinterpreted as ‘Heslinki Sport Logo’. 

Because sport, in Karhu, will always be a fundamental element. 


Víctor Pecci, il playboy del tennis

Víctor Pecci, il playboy del tennis

«Borg era lo que hoy es Rafael Nadal en tierra batida» (Borg era quello che oggi è Rafa Nadal sulla terra battuta) dice oggi Victor Pecci tornando a quella domenica del 10 giugno di quarant’anni fa, quando nella finale del Garros fece soffrire Ice-Borg.  Un metro e novantatré di altezza, criniera nera e mossa, sguardo intenso e penetrante, un Apollo con la racchetta.

Il tocco al phyisique du role, e da tombeur de femmes, glielo dava un diamante al lobo dell’orecchio destro. Alle doti di playboy, Víctor Pecci aggiunse però un dettaglio: sapeva giocare bene a tennis. Gran servizio, tocco morbido e una volèe d’incanto, erano gli ingredienti del suo gioco fantasioso e divertente.

Il limite era l’incostanza, tipico tallone d’Achille dei geni estrosi. Victor nasce ad Asuncion il 15 ottobre del 1955; negli anni del regime di Alfredo Stroessner, dove i ricchi sono sempre più ricchi e i poveri stentano a sfamare i niños, il tennis non è certo uno sport per tutti.

Figlio di un medico, il ragazzo cresce negli agi dell’alta società, e prende lezioni nel circolo più esclusivo della capitale paraguaiana. Divenuto campione nazionale ad appena 15 anni, si lancia nel circuito Atp, vincendo il suo primo titolo a Madrid nel 1976. In quel giugno del 1979, si presenta all’Open di Francia, dopo aver conquistato il torneo di Nizza, dove ha battuto in finale John Alexander. Un bel biglietto da visita, ma non abbastanza da accreditarlo tra i favoriti al Bois de Boulogne. È 35 al mondo e quindi nemmeno testa di serie.

Il tennis ha il suo re; a soli ventitrè anni Bjorn Borg può infatti già vantare sei titoli dello Slam: tre al Roland Garros e tre a Wimbledon. Se a Londra ne ha infilati tre di fila, a Parigi non ha fatto quaterna, perché sconfitto da Adriano Panatta nei quarti del 1976, l’anno magico del tennista romano.

Oltre al numero uno del mondo, signore assoluto della terra rossa, i maggiori pretendenti allo scettro di Francia sono Guillermo Vilas, Vitas Gerulaitis e Jimmy Connors. Borg raggiunge la finale, dopo aver spazzato via tutti gli avversari e aver letteralmente asfaltato Gerulaitis in semifinale.

Pecci supera Jaufftet e Slozil, e non lascia quindi nemmeno un set a Corrado Barazzuti e Harold Solomon (sconfitto da Panatta nella finale del 1976). Nei quarti, lo attende il derby con Guillermo Vilas, ma anche l’argentino si piega in tre set al talentuoso serve&volley del ragazzo di Asuncion.

Adesso bisogna fare i conti con lui, il suo tennis d’attacco gli attira le simpatie del pubblico parigino, le ragazze della Ville Lumiere ne vanno pazze, ma in semifinale incrocia quel cagnaccio di Connors e il pronostico è tutto dalla parte di Jimbo. Succede l’impensabile, a Pecci riesce tutto, la sua Fischer è una bacchetta magica, Connors soffre le sue continue discese a rete, s’innervosisce e va in confusione. Victor non gli dà scampo e vince in quattro set: 7-5/6-4/5-7/6-3.

È ora in finale con Borg. Pare una favola, ma è tutto vero. Dall’altra parte dell’Atlantico, in Paraguay si scatena un pandemonio. A nemmeno 24 anni, Pecci è l’idolo di un’intera nazione. Per la finale con Borg, Canal 9 garantisce ore di diretta televisiva e irradia le immagini del Roland Garros in ogni Barrio di Asuncion, cosa impensabile in un paese che si alimenta di solo calcio.

Il 10 giugno del 1979 il cielo di Parigi è bigio, cade qualche gocciolina di pioggia, che tuttavia non inficia il match. Pecci è contratto, fatica a sciogliere il braccio. Si fa sotto, ma Borg è un muro, ribatte tutto e lo passa con impressionante regolarità. I primi due set sono senza storia, ma nel terzo qualcosa s’inceppa nel tennis robotico dello svedese, ora Pecci riesce finalmente a far breccia.

Ne esce una partita meravigliosa e avvincente, una battaglia ingaggiata punto su punto; il paraguaiano infiamma il catino del Roland Garros tra volèe e acrobazie, trascina Borg al tie-break, e se lo aggiudica 8-6. Nel quarto lotta e gioca alla pari, ma subisce un break che risulta decisivo. Il suo sogno finisce lì: Parigi incorona per la quarta volta Bjorn Borg (arriverà a sei), ma al momento della premiazione riserva una standing ovation a Pecci, il bel ragazzo con l’orecchino che ha eletto suo beniamino e ama come un figlio adottivo.

Quando fa ritorno in patria, Victor ha il Paraguay ai suoi piedi; è giovane, bello, famoso e con un bel conto in banca: allora se la spassa e le partite della vita notturna sono tutte sue. Meno quelle sui campi da tennis, dove non saprà più ripetersi ai livelli del ‘79.

Nel 1981 batte ancora Vilas a Roma, ma si arrende in finale all’altro gaucho Joé Luis Clerc. L’ultima sua impresa la firma nel 1987, quando nella polveriera di Asuncion davanti al generale Stroessner guida la squadra nazionale di Coppa Davis a un clamoroso successo per 3-2 sugli Stati Uniti.

Passano due anni e, mentre in Paraguay dopo 35 anni il dittatore è deposto, Agassi e soci si prendono la rivincita in Florida rifilando ai sudamericani un cappotto.

È la fine della parabola di Pecci, che si ritira nel 1990. Tre matrimoni e due figli, Victor Pecci è tuttora un monumento nel suo paese. Nel 2003 gli hanno affidato la guida della squadra nazionale di Coppa Davis. Ma c’è di più: dopo essere stato eletto sportivo paraguaiano del bicentenario, dal 2013 al 2018 ha ricoperto la carica di ministro dello sport. E pensare che quel 10 giugno del 1979 a Parigi perse. Non osiamo nemmeno immaginare a cosa, se avesse battuto Borg, sarebbe successo. Ma forse, a pensarci bene, questa storia è più bella così. 


The 6 best movies about basketball

From He Got Game to White Men Can’t Jump. When basketball becomes legend on the big screen

“Basketball is like jazz,” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It is an artistic form, where rhythm and inspiration punctuate every dribble, every action.

Basketball is an inspiring muse for the world of fashion, thanks to its underground spirit, to the cool NBA universe, to its visual heritage. Basketball is a subject increasingly used in contemporary art: an art enchanted by the countless nuances of the game invented by James Naismith. Basketball is also a point of reference and an ideal cue for great cinematography.

For this reason we propose a collection of films, 6 to be exact, which we believe are the greatest basketball masterpieces that have appeared on the big screen. Enjoy.

He Got Game

The direction of Spike Lee, the interpretations of Denzel Washington and Ray Allen. Three names are enough to understand the greatness of a film. In this gem, that has become a cult favorite, Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by Allen, a Bucks player at the time), is one of the nation’s top high school prospects. Fame, women, obscure prosecutors and big colleges come knocking on the door of this boy with no parents. Jesus, in fact, has to act as a father for his young sister. Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington), Jesus’ father, is in jail because he is responsible for the tragic homicide of his wife and, suddenly, finds himself returning to the playgrounds of Coney Island for his director. The goal of this journey is to ask his son to choose the university of Big State, alma mater of the state governor. A whirlwind series of events is triggered, culminating in a difficult rapprochement between a son full of rancor and a father consumed by remorse. He Got Game’ was presented at the Venice International Film Festival in 1998, accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack in which songs by Aaron Copland and inspired pieces by Public Enemy intertwine.

Glory Road

The history of the Texas Western Miners is a milestone in American social evolution. The small Texas college, thanks to the visionary decisions of coach Don Haskins, was the first team with a line up of only black players in an NCAA final: the one played in 1966 against highly-rated Kentucky,  led by conservative Adolph Rupp. Acts of intimidation, racial insults, public resistance and the desire for change populate this film, masterfully directed by James Gartner, and the entire march of the Miners to the promised land of the national title. The film, a fundamental historical testimony, was nominated for the famous Humanitas Prize, an award for films that promote human dignity and freedom, and won the ESPY Award in 2006.

White Men Can’t Jump

In Los Angeles, the playground is folklore and trash-talking, it’s dollars and snazzy outfits. It was already like that in the 90s, as witnessed by the legendary film White Men Can’t Jump. In the iconic court of Venice Beach, Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) and Sidney Dean (Wesley Snipes) meet each other: streetballers who are, not only because of the color of their skin, polar opposites. An unexpected friendship grows between the two, a basketball affinity that leads them on an ironic and successful journey through the most recognized playgrounds of LA: a journey in search of easy money. The background to the story is a prejudice that has always been present in basketball: the lack of athleticism in white players. It is only a coveted dunk that puts an end to this age-old diatribe.

The legacy of Space Jam

From Michael Jordan to LeBron James, from basketball played to the rhythm of the great Bulls to contemporary hyper-technological basketball experienced as a video game, from the Looney Toons to the Looney Toons. The second chapter of Space Jam (A New Legacy), recently released in theaters, has made many purists turn up their noses, yet it seems to embody the evolution of a film that has delighted generations of fans of the Game. James wears the crown given to him by ‘His Airness’ MJ also on the big screen, finding himself saving the world alongside the cartoonish team signed Warner Bros. In this new chapter  Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley are replaced by Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Nneka Ogwumike and Diana Taurasi. The female presence in the Goon Squad is just one of the many innovations grafted in the second Space Jam, set in a totally cybernetic world, where the always funny Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and partners take shape.

Coach Carter

Another film inspired by a true story. In this biographical overview Samuel L. Jackson plays Ken Carter: a coach committed to improving as players and, above all, as students and men, the boys of Richmond High School. Carter spreads the word of education among his young athletes, who are close to violent and criminal environments, putting academic results ahead of sports results. The Oilers, a team of unquestionable talent, even skip games, forced by their coach, to concentrate on the academic results: a choice that put Coach Carter in the middle of a storm of controversy, but that allowed many of his boys to obtain university scholarships. Also in this case, basketball becomes an instrument to tell a wonderful social story.

Hoosiers

A more dated film than the others, Hoosiers is a 1986 masterpiece, directed by David Anspaugh and nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Dennis Hopper) and Soundtrack. Gene Hackman plays Coach Norman Dale, a coach sidelined by the collegiate system who finds himself leading a small school team in Indiana to unexpected state success. The story, inspired by that of Milan High School, tells of human relationships and social entanglements within the Hickory community. The result is an intense fresco of the cryptic rural United States. The movie is really intense and it was chosen by the United States National Film Registry as a “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant work of art,” resulting, for this reason, subject to preservation by the Library of Congress.