Adidas has built the success of their brand by persuading top athletes and sports stars to wear their footwear / apparel when competing at prestigious athletic and sports tournaments. The cornerstone of Adidas brand promotion is sponsoring athletes to wear their footwear at the Olympic Games. Another important sports tournament for Adidas is the FIFA World Cup: one of the earliest World Cups that Adidas promoted their football boots at was the 1954 Switzerland FIFA World Cup. West Germany won the World Cup wearing Adidas football boots; which included players: Helmut Rahn, Léopold Anoul, Fritz Walter, Henri Coppens and Richard Herrmann.
Sponsoring athletes at the Olympic Games was a marketing tactic employed by Adolf "Adi" Dassler long before he founded Adidas in 1949. In the 1930's and 1940's Adolf Dassler operated a sports shoe factory with his brother, and one of the first athletes they persuaded to wear their spiked spikes was Josef Waitzer at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, the Dassler brothers persuaded 100m sprinter Arthur Jonath to use their spikes. The most notable athlete they persuaded to use their spikes was Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Winning four gold medals, Jesse Owens became an Olympics legend.
However, while all these athletes used Dassler brothers shoes, they did not use Adidas shoes: Adidas were founded in 1949 after the brothers bitterly quarreled during the second world war. One of the earliest athletes to wear Adidas spikes was Emil Zatopek at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games; winning three gold medals. At the Melbourne Olympic Games, in 1956, it was estimated that over half of all the medallists wore Adidas shoes. This would herald the beginning of Adidas' dominance of sponsoring athletes and athletic teams at the Olympic Games.
Notable athletes and sports stars that would go on to use Adidas shoes are: Wilma 'Gazelle' Rudolph, Rod Laver, Adebe Bikila, Willi Holdorf, Sam Smith, Franz Beckenbauer, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Reinhold Messner, Nadia Comaneci, Edwin Moses, Alberto Juantorena, Steffi Graf and David Beckham. While Adidas has generally managed to sponsor the top sports stars, they have had some notable sponsorship failures: they tried and failed to sponsor Pele at the World Cup - losing out to bitter rivals Puma - and Kobe Bryant switched to Nike even though Adidas had named a shoe after him; Adidas subsequently had to rename the shoe.
Present day, the most notable sports celebrity to wear and promote Adidas footwear is Lionel Messi. Regarded as the world's best footballer, and perhaps the best player to ever play the game, Adidas have released an 'Adidas Messi' football boot that has proved hugely successful. David Beckham, while he may have retired from playing football, signed a lifetime sponsorship deal with Adidas. Due to Beckham's ongoing global popularity as a former sports personality, he has, on occasion, opened Adidas outlet stores and still 'fronts' Adidas marketing promotions; such as the 'Impossible is Nothing' promotion.