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Tinkering with success
Mark Ylen/Democrat-Herald
Tinker Hatfield Jr. shows one of a pair of Golden Spikes, running shoes made for Olympic athlete Michael Johnson. The shoes are woven with 24-carat gold.

Tinker Hatfield Jr. has always felt a strong connection to Albany even though the Nike executive rarely gets back to the area these days.

Growing up in Halsey, he remembers taking swimming lessons at the YMCA and traveling to Arctic Circle with buddies after sporting events Central Linn High School, his alma mater.

But for Hatfield, 50, Wednesday's appearance at the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce forum was an overdue homecoming of sort.

"It's a lot fun to be back here and see all these people I grew up with," he said. "I don't get back much even though I only live 80 miles away, but it's always nice to be here."

Hatfield serves as vice president of special projects for Nike in Portland. He was invited by Chamber member Fred Koontz, who knew the executive as a ball boy for his football team at Central Linn.

In between reminiscing with friends about their glory days in athletics, Hatfield showcased some of the shoes he helped design.

His favorite design was the Air Jordan XI, which he designed with his close friend and basketball legend, Michael Jordan, when Jordan announced his break from retirement.

"It's a special shoe because it was at a time when Michael was making his comeback and no one was sure what to expect from him," Hatfield said. "We used new technology and different things and it's probably my favorite simply because of what it meant at the time for his career."

Hatfield started working with Nike in 1981 and began designing products in 1985. He helped design the first cross-training shoe (the Air Trainer) and has gone on to many other successes, including collaborations with Jordan for the Air Jordan line, the Air Max running shoes, Andre Agassi footwear and Michael Johnson's gold track spikes in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"When we design a shoe, we think of performance first and what an athlete requires in their shoes," Hatfield said. "There's also issues of style that we consider, but ultimately we want people to know they're buying a little bit of a dream."

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Hatfield showed Chamber members a variety of Nike commercials, beginning with the company's first television spot, "Revolution," in 1985. The commercial marked the first time a Beatles song was used to sell a product.

"That was an important step for Nike. It was an attempt to be in the hearts and minds of young people," he said. "It was a theme of irreverence, something we've always considered part of what we are."

In 1993 and 1996, Hatfield was named one of the most Influential people in the sports business by Sportstyle Magazine. In 1998, Fortune magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential Designers of the century.

At Central Linn, Hatfield was named the 1970 state high school athlete of the year for his All-American efforts in track and field, all-state award in football, and achievements in basketball.

He went on to the University of Oregon where he studied architecture while being coached by the legendary Bill Bowerman in track. Hatfield once held the school record in the pole vault and placed sixth in the 1976 Olympic trials.

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