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A European sales rep once described the first Nike Pegasus running shoe as looking like a “rainy day,” with its gray base color and navy accents. But ever since the shoe made its debut in the running circuit in 1982, it’s been mostly sunny skies for Nike. Designed to provide runners with a durable, comfortable, and affordable option, Pegasus has experienced numerous alterations and modifications while attempting to be the “shoe for every runner.” Even a brief disappearance from the Nike landscape in the late 1990s didn’t diminish interest in this iconic Nike shoe.After more than a quarter-century on the feet of elite and everyday runners, from Phil Knight and Bernard Lagat to the neighbor next door, Pegasus continues to prove that it’s capable of running through just about anything. Design:Mark Parker was the manager of advanced product designs and then the director of design concepts and engineering during the early 1980s. Now Nike’s CEO, he is credited with creating the first Nike Pegasus, a shoe with a very simple mission.“The original inspiration was to design a more accessibly priced every person’s Air training shoe,” Parker said. Named after the majestic winged horse of Greek mythology, Pegasus was intended to represent movement, quickness and the allure of flying on “Air.” But just as the Greek Pegasus was half horse, the Nike Pegasus was designed to be half Air.“The Pegasus was essentially like our ‘best practices’ shoe,” said Steve Roth, a Nike product engineer then based in Korea. “It was the shoe that offered the top-of-the-line innovations in performance while coming in at a moderate price point. It was one of our first great efforts finding that sweet spot for the runner.” Rounding out the shoe was a simple, yet effective upper outfitted in gray with dark blue accents. Using a popular blueprint for the upper, which consisted of nylon with a light suede leather tip, heel counter covering and eyelet stay, the Pegasus shoe was far from flashy. Like many Air projects in the early 1980s, the Pegasus wasn’t solely Parker’s creation. Bruce Kilgore, who was working on the Air Force 1 – Nike’s first basketball shoe with Air cushioning – and other Nike designers in Exeter, NH, provided design input, which Parker incorporated into Pegasus. Michael St. Laurent, a Nike shoe developer in Korea at the time, recalled having to do everything from upgrading the specifications of the EVA heel midsole material to teaching the Korean factories to make a better quality slip-lasted shoe.  And numerous components for the shoes had to be imported, including the Air Wedge from the United States, and nylon from Germany. Some of the ingredients for the Pegasus were eventually made in-country, including the nylon material, but when the shoe was getting off and running, St. Laurent was scrounging to get all of the pieces in place, while Roth was working to put everything together.  Building the Foundation:“In those days, the line plan always had three columns to it: stability, cushioning, and lightweight,” said Clare Hamill, a leader in Nike’s Running team in the mid-1980s. “…It would be like here are three shoes at the top of those pillars and then the Pegasus always just sat very nicely under all three of them, in the middle of cushioning but without being a big Air shoe, but if you were going to recommend anything to somebody and they were just getting started, you’d recommend the Pegasus.”“I think everybody always knew it was one of those things where you didn’t want to change it,” Hamill said. “That was the biggest challenge – how to make it better without changing it.” As the Pegasus line reached the five million-pair sales mark in 1987, just five years after being introduced, Hamill remarked in a press release, “Runners adopt the Pegasus shoe like a favorite pair of jeans; they never want to give them up.”  Expansion:Pegasus already had established itself as Nike’s top selling shoe and was developing into a franchise in its own right. Although Pegasus GX, introduced in 1985, appeared to be a franchise extension, it wasn’t until 1988 when Nike truly spread the wings of Pegasus by introducing Air Pegasus ACG for men. Essentially Air Pegasus with a synthetic leather upper and rubber toe guard, Air Pegasus ACG offered runners an alternative for cold, wet conditions and off-road running. The perks didn’t come without a premium price though – the new model was listed at $70, compared to the $50 Air Pegasus.  That year also marked the introduction of two more franchise product extensions – the men’s Air Pegasus A/T and the Air Pegasus Racer.The men’s Air Pegasus A/T, made of black and grey leather and synthetic leather, was intended for all-terrain running, while the Air Pegasus Racer put the franchise into the competitive running scene. Built on the same last as Air Pegasus, the Racer offered the everyday runner a lighter shoe for racing, tipping the scale at 7.7 oz., compared to roughly 10 oz. for Air Pegasus.Ending the Reign:By 1997, Pegasus had been a core part of Nike’s running line for more than 15 years, but was losing momentum. Members of the Nike Running team headed out for a run to discuss the shoe one Saturday night. “I remember the run because it was funny that we were talking about the Pegasus and we were frustrated as to why it wasn’t doing so well,” said Tim Slingsby, Running PLM at the time. “And then we all looked down and none of us were wearing the Pegasus. Everybody was a pretty serious runner and we all looked around and none of us wore the shoe and none of us really cared to wear the shoe, so we had a problem.” After much deliberation, the Nike Running crew decided there was only one way to try to salvage the franchise that had lost its appeal: drop the shoe from the line until it could be restored to its original form. The next few weeks were then spent fleshing out a plan of action, and making a justified case for dropping the Pegasus.“We came up with a plan and said ‘we’re going to take a break from it,’” Slingsby said. “We’re going to reevaluate and when the time is right, we’re going to bring it back.”As expected, everyone from the retail store managers to the fanatical runners within the Nike family was upset with the decision. Thousands of runners reached out to Nike via emails, letters and phone calls, asking for the shoe they’d fallen in love with years ago and hoping that the franchise would be restored.The Comeback:Slingsby and his cohorts in the Running department had always planned to reinstate the shoe when the time was right. But they needed a designer who could restore the Pegasus back to its old form and refocus the core values of the shoe.  Enter Sean McDowell.McDowell had joined Nike in 1997 and was a runner himself. Originally, he was asked to update the Arma, which had replaced the Pegasus in 1998. But McDowell, other Nike designers, and thousands of Pegasus-deprived runners thought otherwise.“It wasn’t until about 1999 that a lot of us we’re feeling like, ‘Remember the Pegasus?’” McDowell said. “I used to run in the Pegasus. It was one of my favorite shoes through high school and college. I was a dedicated, geeky runner and it was always the best neutral cushioning shoe, always the best.”McDowell received the green light to design a new Pegasus. He and Slingsby, who was still the Running PLM, and Emily Dennison, who was the developer on the project, worked together to pinpoint exactly how to bring the Pegasus back to its best.  One of the first things they did was eliminate Visible Air. “Everything at the time in the late ‘90s was you need the Visible Air…you need to be able to see everything to sell it in the store,” McDowell said. “And we said ‘runners aren’t like that.’ They want a shoe that works. They don’t care how it looks … necessarily.” The team also decided to take out the PU Phylon interlocked midsole and heel Air unit, which had been used since 1987, and replace it with a full-length Air sole and a full Phylon midsole. In order to ensure that the Air sole worked properly, Dennison and Dan Dehaven developed a new process to create a compression molded pre-form, which allows the Air sole to be “baked” inside the shoe (rather than being injected after placement). “It makes the shoe really light,” McDowell said. “It makes it very well cushioned and you had this distribution of pressure that was unheard of.”The outsole of the 2000 Air Pegasus reverted back to its origins – the legendary Bill Bowerman Waffle sole with the standard BRS 1000 rubber. However, the team used waffle fill for the inside waffles, giving the outsole a softer, stickier traction in the middle.  The addition of a crash pad and flex grooves to help with pronation issues and comfort also were included. And the midfoot area was widened as it had become more sculpted during the mid-1990s.  “All of the biomechanics are our best practices,” McDowell said. To accent the features of the shoe, McDowell used visual design language, incorporating colors and directional patterns, to highlight the elements most important to runners like the midfoot fit and the flex grooves.Rounding out the shoe was 3D mesh in the upper to wick away sweat and keep runners’ feet dry, while 3M reflective material was used in the tongue and vamp to keep them safe.By the fall of 2000, the Pegasus line was ready to run again. But this time it wasn’t left on its own – it was now part of the newly created Bowerman Series, a collection dedicated to making consistent, dependable footwear for runners, by runners. “Pegasus really became one of our foundation points for the new Bowerman Series,” McDowell said. “The original Bowerman Series we called 100 percent pure. Meaning we’re not going to listen to anybody but runners. We’re not going to listen to anybody in upper management. We’re not going to listen to half the people that work at Nike that think they have a say in this. We’re just going to go out and dedicate ourselves to athletes and runners and do everything that they want to do.” Round Two:Part of the intention behind the Bowerman Series line was to keep the shoes more consistent, so the Air Pegasus 2000 stayed in the equation for two years. But when it came time to introduce the next model, Air Pegasus 2002, the subtle changes in store for the shoe were too much, many members of Nike’s Running group said. For starters, the fit of the Air Pegasus 2002 was altered from that of the Air Pegasus 2000, creating a firmer feel that most Pegasus fans were not accustomed to. The shoe was also heavier than its predecessor, and it featured a saddle-strap design that created an additional layer on the upper of the shoe. The essential Pegasus elements including the Waffle sole were still in place, but the shoe improvements had gone too far, and sales suffered. “The Pegasus 2004 was really what the 2002 was supposed to be,” said Steve Roth, who had worked on the original Pegasus in 1982. “I would say that it was even better than the 2000.”Global sales of the men’s and women’s Air Pegasus 2004 went through the roof. Clearly, the Pegasus was headed in the right direction. But it still had some kinks to work out. When the Air Pegasus 2005 was introduced as an “aggressive update,” the consistency of the Pegasus was once again jeopardized. Some within Nike Running blame the shoe’s inconsistencies on the irregularity within the Running team; having a new designer every model naturally paved the course for different shoes. Either way, 2005 was not a hit for the men’s version. Once again, Pegasus had gotten off track. Despite the underwhelming reaction to the men’s product, 2005 marked positive strides for the women’s version. For the first time, the women’s Pegasus featured a different upper design than the men’s, and it was constructed on a new women’s-specific last. The midsole shank also was exposed, unlike in the men’s design, and flex grooves were placed in the toe to allow for more flexibility during “toe off,” which studies showed women did more than men. The first models released under the new Bowerman Series group appeared in 2006. The women’s Pegasus not only had its own design, like the previous year, but it also contained a montage of improvements including more flex grooves and a women’s-specific crash pad. A Rideliner, which is essentially a PU lid poured on top of the midsole that creates an instant fit and feel, was also added. And the biomechanics of the shoe were also adjusted to accommodate the lighter body mass of women, compared to men, and to reduce the occurrence of injuries, which often resulted when men’s shoes were just “tweaked” rather than designed specifically for women. Going Back to Move Ahead:With sales growing and a loyal fan base returning, Pegasus continues to be Nike’s all-time best-selling running shoe. The Pegasus has also joined the rest of Nike’s stable of running product and is now Nike+ compatible, allowing runners to insert a sensor in the shoe to communicate with their iPod nano or Nike+ SportBand to record their kilometers, pace and calories burned. To mark the 25th anniversary of its wide-spread release, two versions of the men’s and women’s Air Pegasus are on slate for 2008: Air Pegasus 25 and Air Pegasus SE (Special Edition). Both feature the original Waffle design and a simple yet effective upper, which were inspired by the original Pegasus. While grounded in its heritage, the new Pegasus models also have an eye on the future. The 2008 versions feature the latest natural motion technology and flex grooves, as well as a revamped encapsulated Air bag that accommodates the Nike+ sensor while remaining intact from heel to toe. A new women’s-specific Pegasus Fit appears in the 2008 model. First introduced in the Zoom Structure Triax+12, the fit echoes women’s foot structure more. A women’s specific Heel Cradle offers more comfort and the shoe weighs 13 percent less than its predecessor.  The men’s version also shed the same percentage in weight, thanks in part to its new lighter, softer Rideliner.The Air Pegasus SE has an upper similar to that of the original Pegasus in 1982, with both the men’s and women’s versions available in their original colorways. Intended to be released in limited quantities, the Air Pegasus SE is not only a tribute to the legendary life the Pegasus has led, it’s also a nod to the man who revolutionized the running world with the Waffle sole: Bill Bowerman.  But just as technology has evolved over the past 25 years, so, too, has the process of making shoes. The 2008 Pegasus models served as a pilot project for new standards of the Considered Index. Included in the Considered approach for the Pegasus was the use of recycled materials wherever possible, tessellated patterns throughout the design to reduce waste during production, and water-based solvents and adhesives in shoe construction to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Like Pegasus models of the past, time will only tell if the 2008 models are able to keep pace with the runners who’ve come to love the franchise, while also attracting new admirers with the consistent, reliable performance it offers at a moderate price. Strong As Ever:The shoe that started as a mission to provide the “everyday runner” with an affordable, reliable option has now marked a quarter of a century. Pegasus has tested its limits, pushed the boundaries of runners’ comfort zones for consistency, and proven that it, too, can recover from a fall on the course and get back on track. “I think it’s one of our great success stories and it’s a terrific shoe,” said Phil Knight, Nike’s co-founder. “I think if we could’ve planned it all the way out, we wouldn’t have ever withdrawn it. But we were having trouble innovating it and keeping it to the high standards, so I think the way it evolved is just fine.  It’s a big success story … a big part of the running story.”And with 25 years under its belt, the Pegasus is just hitting its stride. Given Nike’s renewed dedication to the franchise, Pegasus should be carrying a new generation of runners on its wings for years to come.

Read More: Nike Running Pegasus