That Bela--alternately so jovial, so brutish! The image of Karolyi hoisting Kerri Strug to the champion's podium is one of the most ubiquitous images of the 1996 Olympics. Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, et al. have defended him, but others--most notably Joan Ryan of Little Girls in Pretty Boxes fame--contend that his techniques are psychologically damaging.
A Slate profile circa the 2000 Sydney Olympics illuminates the shadows Ryan explores:
He sought younger and younger girls to train, and psychologically overwhelmed them. "I am going to turn their little minds around," he said. "The young ones are the greatest little suckers in the world. They will follow you no matter what." He called his methods "survival of the fittest" and "scorpions in a bottle." He constantly set the girls against each other, knowing that the survivors would be impervious to competition pressure.
"Bela is a great coach for two reasons," says Ryan. "First, he is an incredible motivator. He could get you to run through a wall. And second, he has no conscience when it comes to the damage done to these little girls. He says that he's the coach, and everything else—eating disorders, for example—is the parents' responsibility."
None of this can change the fact that as a doomed gymnast-child, I longed nightly to be teleported to Karolyi's Texas Valhalla. The groupthink operating in my little gym was powerful enough that I still have dreams that it's 95 degrees outside & my coach is guzzling a 32-oz something as he counts backwards while we hold our legs at an unfathomably obtuse angle. At least he didn't call us "pregnant goats"! And to all our former child athletes: who was your Bela?
Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
1. They were originally athletic shoes.
The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)
3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.
The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.
4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...
Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932.
5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.
Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:
My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.
6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.
“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.
7. The company owns a recording studio.
Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.
8. Not all the Ramones were fans.
Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone toldSpin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”
9. Chucks were initially only high tops.
In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.
10. Rocky ran in them.
In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks.
11. Wiz Khalifa loves them.
The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles.