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The Nike Pegasus Is Still 40 Years Young

2023 marks the 40th anniversary of the iconic Nike Pegasus, the most-sold running shoe in Nike’s history. We went through its history, from the first release designed by Mark Parker to the latest innovations.
Nike Pegasus 37 Campaign
Nike Pegasus 37 Campaign. Image: Nike

If we say “Mark Parker” and “Nike”, the word that comes to your mind is “CEO”. Indeed, Mark Parker joined Nike in 1979 where he climbed the corporate ladder till he was appointed CEO, a role which served for over a decade, from 2006 to 2019. He is responsible for the company’s outstanding growth and he’s remembered as one of the key figures associated with the Swoosh, together with Phil Knight, Bill Bowerman, and a few others.

Well…”CEO” was not the only correct answer. We would have accepted “Pegasus” as well. In fact, Parker designed the first iteration of the Pegasus in 1983, together with the Air Force 1 genie Bruce Kilgore. The Pegasus would go on and sell more than 17 million pairs through its 40 years of history becoming the most successful running shoe from the Swoosh.

Nike Pegasus 1983 Ad
Nike Pegasus 1983 Ad. Image Nike

In 1983, Nike found itself lost in the running boom across the US without a strong silhouette being able to compete with the Saucony Jazz and Puma Easy Rider. A brand born on the track and for runners wasn’t appealing to millions of everyday runners who picked up jogging as a hobby during the 80s fitness revolution. In Nike’s mind, the Pegasus was the perfect answer to runners’ needs.

The Pegasus drew inspiration from the Tailwinds upgraded with some technology innovations like the Air Wedge, a heel-only Air unit that “improves shock absorption by 12 percent over an EVA wedge” according to the 1982 Nike catalog. Even though the name of the shoe comes from the majestic winged horse present in Greek mythology, the Pegasus was not catching the eyes of its style and colors. The design was left intentionally very simple with simple color blocking and no flashy features. On the other hand, the Pegasus was reliable and had longevity, exactly what runners wanted day after day during their training. This straightforward approach would become a key feature of the shoe and much appreciated by runners at all levels.

Runners, by nature, are not flashy or adventurous people. We push forwards incrementally, gradually increasing distance, testing our limits, and edging our distance up and down as we build up our reserves. And the Pegasus has grown in the same way. Justin Quirk to MR PORTER
Nike Pegasus Turbo Campaign Eliud Kipchoge
Nike Pegasus Turbo Campaign featuring Eliud Kipchoge. Image Brandon Kuzma

Since 1983 Nike released 25 iterations of the Pegasus. The shoe went through all the innovations launched by the brand: the heel and full-length Air Unit, the Nike+ integration with your iPod, and, lastly, the React technology. The Pegasus has been a key pillar of Nike’s running offering since its launch, except for a brief period between 1997 and the early 2000s when they were discontinued. Online you can find long lists of all the releases during these 40 years, you can find our condensed version with the main highlights - new colorways shouldn’t make the cut in these lists, sorry.


Nike releases the first Pegasus, priced $50













Nike Pegasus Turbo post run women
Nike Pegasus Turbo Post Run

Despite the several iterations of the shoe, Nike’s main objective has always been not changing the shoe too much. It is very easy to sink a successful product with too many new features or an edgy new design. As explained by Clare Hamill, former Nike Running team lead: “I think everybody always knew it was one of those things where you didn’t want to change it. That was the biggest challenge—how to make it better without changing it.” All the small improvements kept the shoe up to date with trends in the running world and a warm place in runners’ rotations.

Nike Pegasus 31 Campaign Mo Farah
Nike Pegasus 31 Campaign featuring Mo Farah. Image David Brady

What Nike did to the shoe in the past 40 years is a remarkable case study of product innovation and market positioning. If the Pegasus were first released as a shoe for casual joggers - and still are, being the entry price point of Nike’s running offering - and conquered that segment of the running population, the brand, later on, managed to plug the shoe into top performers. Nike leveraged endorsements from athletes like Lagat, Farah, and Kipchoge to place the products into hardcore runners’ consideration sets and, ultimately, shoe rotations.

Nike Pegasus 40
Nike Pegasus 40. Image: Sneaker News

The Pegasus is a staple shoe that all of us end to own a pair at some point in our running life. You will never go wrong with a Pegasus. Comfort, durability, and performance all together at an affordable price are appealing for beginners and pros. The Pegasus is the ultimate utilitarian running shoe that embraces Nike’s philosophy of training and functionality. After 40 years, it is still young as it was in 1983.


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