(ConnectMidMissouri.com) - The boots worn by eight Olympic speed skaters who competed on Sochi were made by hand by a man in Rocky Mount.
Bootmaker Bruce Kohen makes skating boots and waterski boots in an arduous process that takes 80-100 hours per pair, straight out of a shop at his home.
Kohen said each pair of boots is tailored to an athlete's individual foot profile. "What I'll do first is I'll take a negative," Kohen said. "I will take plaster bandage, just like if your food had been broken, and I'll plaster bandage it all up and make it into two pieces and pull it off the foot in a clamshell."
After creating a profile of an skater's foot, Kohen then begins building each boot from the ground up, using state of the art aerospace materials.
Kohen said each pair is designed to last as long as possible.
"They don't break," Kohen said. "Absolutely not. Well, I mean one skater ran over them in his car. I had to repair those," Kohen laughed.
There aren't many people who can do what Kohen can do. His boots are sought after all over the world, from skaters in many different countries including Russia, Italy, and Canada.
"It's really time consuming hand work. It takes a lot of strength in your hands," Kohen said.
For Kohen, bootmaking started out as a hobby and has been his lifelong passion. Kohen skated competitively until 2006. After losing his job in the telecommunications industry, he turned to bootmaking full time.
"I wanted to design a boot from the ground up that wouldn't break," Kohen said. His goal, he said, was to solve many of the problems he noticed in existing skate designs. Kohen's boots eliminated the need for skaters to tape up their boots as well as incorporating non-rip, synthetic based materials.
"When I started skating, all of the skates were black," Kohen said. "After I changed the colors of my skate, all the other manufacturers caught on. Now, almost no skates are black."
Kohen said his boots have been worn by skating greats like Apollo Ono and Chris Creveling, as well as Russian skating teams.
This year marks the third time Kohen's boots have seen action in the Olympics.