GEL, often outshined by Nike’s trademark visible Air or Adidas’ Boost technology — but should ASICS be given more credit?
In 2016, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of ASICS’ notorious sole unit. Paired with cut ‘n’ sew tiger stripes, reflective cat’s eyes in many cases, and heel model embellishment – it’s needless to say that this is a landmark series for runners as a whole. There have been a number of memorable silhouettes, some great collaborations, so let us look back to where it all started.
1986, the GEL system was injected into ASICS midsoles after years of developmental research. Provided by Japanese company, Taica, this alien material proved an unusual concept, stirring what was a relatively empty pot at the time. Dispersing vertical impact, converting it into horizontal energy and hereafter creating a forward-pushing leverage – who would have thought this material was also popular within writing implements?
ASICS Tiger, as it was known at the time, fed the hungry, cut-throat world of running enthusiasts. It quenched an unattainable thirst for comfort, taking big steps towards revolutionising the industry.
Japan, exclusively lay witness to a series debut, with the lesser known Freak Alpha. This silhouette featured an elongated heel section, in similar fashion modern Nimbus shape that we see in retailers worldwide. Soon after, the GT II, or Grand Turismo II, was released across Europe and North America. This model took an enormous step away from, however still acted as an afterthought of the X-Caliber range. To promote ASICS’ introduction of GEL into Europe, campaigns sporting, ‘why our thick GEL is better than thin air,’ were published across numerous magazines—who said competition had to be boring?
Now, onto 1987 where ASICS completed their rebrand, removing ‘Tiger’ from their title as well as releasing the GEL-Lyte. Nowadays referred to as the ‘OG’, its’ singular GEL unit was situated towards the rear. This, backed up by the introduction of reflective cat’s eyes along the toe box, created an ideal choice for mid-to-long distance runners. The blown rubber outsole was renowned for wearing at an alarming rate, with all of this retailing at a mere $65.
Arguably, 1990 marked the year that one of, if not the most iconic silhouette ASICS ever released. Recognised globally due to its notable aesthetic features – a split tongue, reflective eyes, reflective heel patch and tri-density midsole – the GEL-Lyte III took on a very different approach to what was commonly accepted as a runner. Birthed by Shigeyuki Mitsui, his inspiration was drawn from the idea of creating the ‘ultimate performance running shoe’, hence replicating 1989’s LD-Racer split-tongue aesthetic. This was a firm selling point, adding to the comfort of three separate foam densities, encapsulating the GEL-pads.
Away from the GEL-Lyte series, the Saga held a GEL-unit within the heel, taken from the GEL-Lyte OG. This model’s pointed toe and abrupt bridge-tongue positioning has become a collaborative favourite for sneaker retailers such as; Footpatrol, KITH, Patta and BAIT. Technically speaking, it’s the Saga’s ‘II’ model that attracts collaborations, however roots grew from this 1991 release. Bright, neon-clad uppers were a common occurrence, capturing the bright 90’s in full flow.
ASICS’ final instalment of the GEL-Lyte series, the GLV, came in 1993. What filled the gap between III and V? For those that know, in Japan four is an unlucky number due to a connection with death through pronunciation. Instead of numbering the fourth silhouette, we were handed the GEL-Lyte Ultra – in many aspects a compound sum of III and V.
Back to subject, the V carried the Ultra’s sock-like lining and midsole ripples. Much like the III, a reflective patch is housed on the heel. In this case, depicting a ‘V’ shape, however there’s speculation that this may be purely coincidental. Porous-GEL was featured beneath the forefoot, as per leaving a standard GEL-unit to absorb rear impact and completing one of the most intelligently engineered footwear designs of its time. Again, retailers have preferred to work upon this silhouette, perhaps due to a sleek, modern get-up.
—End of PT. 1—