100 metres in historic track and field shoes

Peter Feeney is a shoemaker who was asked to recreate the track and field shoes that 1936 Olympic Champion, Jesse Owens, would have worn in competition. The twist? A modern champ – Andre De Grasse – will race in the sprint shoes to see if he can beat Owens’ former world record in The Equalizer (trailer).

Q & A with Peter Feeney

1. How did you learn how to make track and field shoes?

I relocated to Florence, Italy in 2006 and began my journey into the world of handmade footwear. I attended a school for handmade footwear as well as apprenticed with an old master shoemaker.

Replicating Jesse Owens track and field shoes

2. How did you figure out how to make Jesse Owens’ track and field spikes?

I did some research into the exact pair of track cleats that he wore for his medal winning run and did my best to re-create them as best I could.

Jesse Owens track and field shoes

3. What was challenging about this job?

To get the shoe spikes into the soles of the shoes. Once that step was completed, they truly became track and field spikes – a legitimate pair of vintage track and field equipment.

Replica of Jesse Owens track and field shoes

4. What did you learn about creating sprint shoes?

It was interesting to see the difference between footwear then and now. Such a difference between how “active” footwear was made back then – like a traditional pair of hand made shoes. And now, they are made with cutting edge technology and materials that would be very difficult to manipulate by hand.

5. How long did it take to make the best running shoes they could be?

The uppers (the leather component that surrounds the foot) weren’t very difficult to make, however, it was quite difficult to work with the track and field spikes. The challenge that I was faced with was how do I get the shoe spikes to stay in the leather sole, while ensuring Andre would be able to run in the shoes.

6. Have you ever made a replica pair of track and field shoe that was raced in before? Did you have any fear that something would “go wrong”?

This was the first time I have done something like this. When making track cleats, we are always concerned with fit. Not having exact measurements was what was concerning me!


Photo: Peter Feeney (left) presents Andre De Grasse (right) with the replica track and field shoes.

7. You were at the shoot with Andre – what did he say to you about his custom track and field equipment?

The fit was great, he thought they were very comfortable but very hard to run in due to the spikes. The resistance with the cinder track and the force required to run was very different than what he is used to.


Owens and De Grasse wearing same track and field shoes
Jesse Owens making headlines again

The legend’s memory lives on in The Equalizer, Kensington’s co-pro with Berlin Producers, which gets its broadcast premiere on March 3 at 8 p.m. ET on CBC TV.  Jesse Owens’ story is also the subject of a Hollywood feature film released this month titled Race. And as if that weren’t enough renewed attention, Adidas released three new basketball shoes to pay tribute to the track and field hero in conjunction with Black History Month. The basketball shoes are worn by NBA star Andrew Wiggins (from Toronto) as well as Damian Lillard, James Harden and Derrick Rose.