A Southern Oregon University student who supports himself reselling thrift store finds has stumbled upon a windfall of an aerodynamic sort.
Trevor Mills of Talent is seeking five figures for a rare Nike prototype bodysuit believed to have been fitted for Olympian runner Michael Johnson prior to the suit's official debut at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney.
After spending months researching the origins of his silver and black Nike bodysuit, for which he paid $7.99 at the Ashland Goodwill, Mills believes it to be a prototype example of Nike's "Swift Suit" compression suit meant to shave milliseconds off Olympic runners' times by reducing wind resistance.
Although Nike officially debuted the suit during the Sydney games, it was tested at a June 2000 Eugene event before the games. Maurice Greene, Marion Jones and Australia's Cathy Freeman were seen wearing similar bodysuits, Mills said, and Freeman eventually won a gold in the 400-meter race wearing the suit during the 2000 Olympic games.
The day Mills found the suit, he was on the lookout for printer ink, remote controls or toys that tend to have value on eBay, but Mills said he makes a habit of checking all sections when he shops thrift stores. When he found the suit in the store's athletic apparel section, Mills said he was drawn to the suit's smooth, silvery material and details in the hands and feet stitching that seemed uncommon.
"The first thing I noticed was the tag said, 'Made in USA,' " Mills said.
He later discovered that instead of a size on the label, the tag had the name "Michael Johnson" printed. As a sports fan familiar with the four-time gold medalist, he knew the suit was unique.
Mills delved into research about the suit, finding his breakthrough in a 2000 photo he spotted online of Marion Jones wearing a nearly identical suit in Eugene. Jones' suit, however, had a hood, as did others' suits at the 2000 Olympic games. Mills later found articles saying Johnson found the hood to be too constrictive, so designers planned another prototype without a hood for Johnson.
Mills expressed doubt he'll see the full $25,000 he's asking for the suit, but said he was open to much lower offers from museums or other places where the suit could be on display. He plans to reach out to Baylor University, Johnson's alma mater, and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
"I'm hoping people contact me," Mills said.
Mills said he listed the suit at the high price because he doesn't want to sell the suit short.
"It's worth a certain amount to me," Mills said.
Mills, who grew up in Florida, has memories of riding with his grandmother to the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, where he watched Michael Johnson run.
"I just think it belongs somewhere where people can know about it," Mills said.
An attempt to contact early Swift Suit designer Edward Harber, who has since left Nike, was unsuccessful Friday.
Mills said he's found other Nike memorabilia in Southern Oregon, such as a special waffle iron that commemorated the Nike headquarters grand opening in 1990. The small appliance, with a label that says "From Waffle Iron to World Headquarters," was an homage to one of the company's earliest shoe designs, the Waffle Trainer, which famously used waffle irons in the process to shape the running shoe prototype's rubber soles in the 1970s.
Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.