May 19, 2020
Ron Hill’s lasting contribution to track and field and sports, in general, were not as an athlete. He was a research chemist and Dr. Ron Hill. He had a Ph.D. in textile chemistry.
In 1970, frustrated at the lack of appropriate clothing for racing and training, he started a company that filled that need. If you run, jump or throw, it’s likely that you’ve worn something that Ron Hill Sports pioneered. When he found a pair of shorts that were too binding, he ripped out the side seams and he invented the split shorts. Since much of his training was done in the dark and he lived in the north of England, he was the first to put reflective tape on clothing. Now, anything that you might wear that’s dark has it on it. He invented the string vest, which we Americans would call a mesh singlet. He knew that synthetic and stretchy fabrics were essential for hot weather and cold weather gear. When everyone else was wearing cotton, he started going to synthetics. If you have some of those pants that are kind of thinner, stretchier and a better fabric – and they gather at the ankles – he invented those too. Ron Hill Sports called those the trackster pants.
Oh! Do you have a wind-proof, water-proof jacket? That’s a Ron Hill idea too. He was the first to put the innovative Gore-Tex technology in a jacket. Now there are knockoffs of all kinds because the patent for Gore-Tex ran out somewhere in the 90s. When Gore-Tex had the patent, he was the first to do that in the late 70s and early 80s.
I mentioned a pair of shorts that I have. They’re made by Ron Hill Sports and they’re the simplest but best pockets that I’ve ever had in shorts. Other, lesser companies have tried to put pockets in running shorts and put them in like pants pockets. You really can’t carry anything while running. They just flop all over and they get in the way. The Ron Hill Sports shorts have small velcro enclosures. I carried a gel pack for more than 90 minutes on a run last Saturday and it worked so well that it feels like it wasn’t there. When I went to grab it, I had to make sure that’s hadn’t fallen out of my pocket. There’s enough space there that I could probably carry four gel packets and nobody would really know. I wouldn’t look like a dork wearing a fuel belt.
Ron Hill turned 81 last September. A few years ago, he ended his consecutive running streak. He’s been having issues with dementia but it’s important to recognize that modern athletes of all abilities across many sports simply could not be comfortable doing what we do without his innovations.
This is the Track and Field History Podcast with Jesse Squire. Subscribe and catch all the latest episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Anchor. Got anything you’d like to hear on the show? Shoot us an email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @tracksuperfan.
I was second in the 1980 Olympic* long jump. (*Cub Scout Olympics, Pack 99, 9-10 age group.)