An instrument of mass exhibitionism. Whereas runners at the 1908 Olympics were required to wear “complete clothing from the shoulder to the knees,” the need for speed eventually threw modesty to the wind, and running shorts would gradually retreat to the hem of the wearer’s tighty-whities. Today, elite sprinters have embraced the spandex speed suit, after coaches successfully argued that loose fabric adds wind resistance. But split shorts—which, with their loose fit and divided outer seam, offer a wide range of motion—have held their place with long-distance fanatics and connoisseurs alike.
A Brief History of Running Shorts
1972: The Munich
Mustached U.S. distance runners Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine compete in skimpy split shorts, cajoling millions into believing they’ll look just as cool.
1977: The Fixx
Former two-pack-a-day smoker James F. Fixx’s The Complete Book of Running features his legs in a pair of split shorts on the cover, igniting the American running craze.
1992: The Secret Service
Bill Clinton and Al Gore exit a McDonald’s wearing matching short-shorts, designed to strike fear into the hearts of America’s enemies.
1992: The World Record
Carl Lewis is among the last U.S. Olympians to sport shorts before sprinters started wearing speed suits to decrease wind resistance.
2007: The Tribute
Nike releases a Prefontaine-era vintage collection; some-one on eBay releases a pair of shorts embroidered with Pre Lives.
2012: The Flasher
Olympian Henrik Ingebrigtsen breaks a Norwegian record—and a few crucial crotch seams in his speed suit—during the 1,500-meter finals in London, making fans pine for good ol’ shorts.