The infamous Nike chainsaw-killer spot (and a minor tribute)

Anyone remember this one? During the 2000 Olympics, Nike unfurled a 30-second television ad titled “Horror” and featuring three-time Olympian Suzy Favor-Hamilton, the eminently photogenic (she’s done scads of professional modeling) 1500-meter specialist whose 3:57.40–the equivalent of a 4:16 mile–in Oslo month before the Sydney Games remains the second-fastest time ever by an American woman (and the fastest by anyone not testing positive for a banned substance during her career).
In the ad, Favor-Hamilton is showing freshening up in the bathroom of a remote cabin when she is beset by a chainsaw-wielding character who is obviously a spin-off of either Michael Myers (the Hallowe’en series) or Jason (the interminable Friday the 13th franchise). Amid dutiful screaming and chainsaw-revving, Favor-Hamilton, clad in swooshed-up apparel, dashes outside and soon distances herself from her obviously undertrained pursuer. The spot ended with the words “Why sport? You’ll live longer” on the screen.

NBC was immediately flooded with complaints about the ad, which was deemed both too frightening for any children watching and a trivializing of violence against women. The spot was pulled for the rest of the Games. Nike released a statement claiming that the ad was supposed to be funny, while Favor-Hamilton herself noted that the woman “beats” the villain.
Of note is that Nike ran a similar ad during these Olympics, one portraying a skateboarder being chased by a gladiator type who repeatedly tries to take the skater out with a series of dramatic swings of a massive sword, also to no avail. If there were any complaints about this one, they never hit the press.
As a sidebar to this drama if not to the Games themselves, Favor-Hamilton fell to the track with 100 meters to go in her 1500-meter final, in the aftermath blaming this on exhaustion brought on by dehydration secondary to anti-inflammatory use. Just this year, in a gutsy interview with the Wisconsin State-Journal, Favor-Hamilton admitted that she fell on purpose, laboring as she was under the pressure to win a gold medal and knowing she was out of contention.
Favor-Hamilton, from tiny Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is fantastically genial and was always a fan favorite, and not because of her pin-up-girl status (at least in the minds of actual track fans). I can attest to the fact that when she first launched her Web site, she personally responded to as many e-mails as she could, and she assuredly got plenty of mail. In 1999, she publicly weathered the loss of her brother Dan, who suffered from bipolar disorder and leaped from a building to his death; soon afterward her college roommate passed away from bone cancer.
Part of her appeal unmistakably lay in the demonization of her chief U.S. rival, Regina Jacobs, who as often as not looked and acted surly and ran under a heavy cloud of suspicion in the latter part of her career (sure enough, she tested positive for the designer steroid tetrahydroguinone in 2003 after setting numerous records in her very late thirties). To this day, many wonder how much Jacobs’ doperific antics cost Favor-Hamilton in literal terms, as Suzy finished second to Jacobs in the 1,500 at the U.S. Championships an astounding eight times.
For my part, I always liked her because, like American marathon record-holder Deena Kastor, she ran, or used to, with at least one Labrador retriever and possibly two at her side (she had a chocolate and a yellow, plus a tiny puglike organism). I’m not sure they are still around; man, how the “oughts” have flown by…
Anyway, watch the ad and draw your own conclusions.

6 thoughts on “The infamous Nike chainsaw-killer spot (and a minor tribute)”

  1. I loved that ad. In a single instance it shattered two idiotic memes: the weak helpless female in need of rescue, and the (admittedly less significant) horror-movie cliche of the victim being unable to outrun the pudgy villain who is carrying a 20-lb chainsaw. The bad guy is lucky he didn’t catch her; she would have kicked his ass, chainsaw or no chainsaw.
    Thanks for the backstory. That makes it even cooler.

  2. I tend to be pretty uptight about images that make light of violence against women, and shows that capitalize on such things, and I have to say – I loved this ad and am glad to see it again. It takes a common genre that does make its coin off of the constant victimization of women and turns the premise on its head. The beautiful babe is also a mighty athlete and one who is completely capable of holding her own in a cruel, sexist world.
    Or that’s my take, anyway.

  3. Many Americans see running as the response of the weak and the despised.
    This audience, however, sees running as a way to win.

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