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Nike backlash. Retro fashion trends. There's a number of explanations within the trade for the resurgence of Adidas in the U.S.

Regardless of which one is right, the Adidas America marketing team led by Bob Nagel, director of marketing and sales, doesn't want to squander the rare opportunity.

In the U.S. last year, Adidas overtook fading Fila USA for No. 3 in U.S. athletic footwear and apparel. Some industry experts believe Adidas can hurdle struggling Reebok International for second before the close of 1999, if not sooner.

Globally, Adidas' sales were $3.72 billion in 1997, up 23% over 1996.

In 1997, Adidas spent less than $20 million in the U.S. on advertising. In 1998, it will spend about $25 million.

"It's not like Adidas is a new brand that has burst out and needs to create a new identity," says Courtney Beuchert, managing director of Leagas Delaney, San Francisco, Adidas' agency. "Adidas' identity was, is and has been for 70 years about a love for sport and a mission to create products that help athletes perform beter."

TV spots have been soulful and introspective and often highly symbolic, getting into athletes' heads. Print ads have showcased product, specifically the brand's high-end "Feet you wear" shoes.

Adidas also is aligning with pro sports leagues, inking marketing partnerships with the National Basketball Association, National Football League and Major League Baseball.

Adidas last year also bought French-based sports equipment company Salomon Co., with a portfolio of strong brands include the hot Taylor Made golf brand. The move gives Adidas a leg up on Nike in one of its final frontiers for growth.

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