JOIN THE CHAMPS - HELSINKI 1971

In 1971, the European Athletics Championships took place in the Finnish capital of Helsinki. For KARHU, it was a unique opportunity. The arrival of the leading European competition in its home country gave KARHU a chance to write a pivotal chapter in the brand’s history. KARHU was the official sponsor of that edition, but that’s not all.

 

Franco Arese, current Chairman of KARHU, celebrated his greatest athletic success at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium: a gold medal in the 1,500m. Today, more than 50 years after this event, KARHU returns as the official supplier of the technical material for the European Championships, highlighting a historic bond while celebrating the intimate relationship between its Chairman, Finland, and the European Athletics Championships.

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FRANCO ARESE - ITALIAN MIDDLE DISTANCE RUNNER, KARHU CHAIRMAN 

Franco Arese won his first and only European title in Finland, the land of eternal middle-distance legends. From Nurmi to Vasala, reaching the top of the podium in Helsinki was not just a great achievement in sport—it was a legend within a legend. Moreover, it is one of the most brilliant chapters in a unique relationship between Arese and Finland that has existed for decades. 1971 was the year of Arese. In a few short months, the 27-year-old Italian middle-distance runner broke four national records in the 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, and the mile. Arese competed in the Olympus of middle-distance running and left his mark. He closed the 1,500m Helsinki final in 3'38"43, ahead of Poland's Szordykowski and Britain's Foster. The future entrepreneur raced in unusual red shorts, a color choice dictated by superstition, and unconsciously lifted his arms to the sky amidst waving KARHU banners. It was a symbolic image of an everlasting connection to come. Indeed, after a lengthy career in the business world, the European gold medalist acquired the Finnish brand ten years ago. "KARHU and Finland are my destiny," Arese has repeatedly stated. That golden success in Helsinki ‘71 was just the first confirmation of that notion.

KARHU EVOLUTION - MESTARI

During the 1960s, KARHU continued to evolve its brand by creating a symbol that remains part of its aesthetic and narrative DNA to this day: the letter “M” for MESTARI. The translation of the Finnish word MESTARI is 'champion.' The M-logo became a hallmark of KARHU footwear and the sneakers of the same name which were an international best-seller throughout the ‘70s. In contemporary times, the design of this iconic logo has been reinvented and reimagined, maintaining the brand’s deep connection to its origins and a history filled with some of the greatest champions in European athletics and beyond. 

KARHU EVOLUTION - AIR CUSHION

The 1970s were also a time of technological advancement. During this period, KARHU left an indelible mark on sports footwear with the creation of the first Air Cushion midsole system in history. This new technology, embedded under the heel and arch of the foot, was developed to greatly reduce stress on the knees, pelvis, and lower back while also taking physical performance to new, unexplored dimensions. 

THE AIR CUSHION ENJOYED ITS FIRST MAJOR SUCCESS WITH THE CHAMPIONAIR MODEL, SELLING MORE THAN A MILLION PAIRS WORLDWIDE IN A FEW SHORT YEARS. IN ADDITION TO THE FUTURISTIC ADDITION OF THE AIR CUSHION, THIS MODEL ALSO FEATURED A BRIGHTLY COLORED SILHOUETTE INSPIRED BY THE DEMANDS OF FINNISH ATHLETES WHO WANTED TO MOVE BEYOND THE CLASSIC, SEEMINGLY UNCHANGING, BLACK-AND-WHITE AESTHETIC OF SPORTS SHOES.

ChampionAir were sold throughout Europe. In Amsterdam, for example, hundreds of people waited in line on launch day. In Madrid, several young members of the Spanish royal family proudly donned this cutting edge product. Today, Air Cushion remains one of the most functional and distinctive features of KARHU shoes, a leap into the future with values from the past, constantly improving the health and performance of runners.

Photo Credits - IMAGO / Horstmüller / WEREK