The Tokyo Olympics finally get underway later this month and athletics records could be broken thanks to some new innovations in footwear.
It has been five long years since the last Olympics in Rio and athletes around the world are gearing up for what should hopefully be an exciting few weeks of action in Japan.
One major topic of debate in the build-up to the Games has been about the new technology regarding footwear.
It may seem like a trivial issue on the surface but it has caused controversy and split opinion.
What are the Shoes in Question?
Nike’s Vaporflys are the shoes in question with several top-class athletes using them to great effect over recent years.
Released in 2017, the Vaporflys are the most advanced type of running shoe yet and they are unlike any ever made before, when you consider the new technology involved.
The sole has been described as “squishier, bouncier, and lighter” than any other footwear on the market and, as such, less strain is placed on runners when using them.
The added bounce allows the athlete to spring forward ever so slightly as the sole compresses and then expands.
A plate of carbon fibre is fused together with a layer of foam to create a trampoline-like effect.
While most shoes return 65 per cent of the energy on the forward push, the Vaporflys are shown to be 87 per cent efficient, using a foam called Pebax.
Nike-funded research showed they improve overall efficiency by 4.2 per cent, with some branding the shoes as “technology doping” akin to the LZR swimsuit controversy from 2008.
What has their Effect Been?
Since September 2018, the four fastest times set in men’s marathon history have been set by Vaporfly runners.
Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge ran the first-ever sub-two-hour marathon wearing the Vaporflys, though it did not count as a world record due to it not being an open event.
It is worth pointing out that those particular Vaporflys have been banned by World Athletics due to the soles being too chunky, but there is no outright ban on the shoe’s standard model.
Despite that, they are still proving to be dominant – in 2019, 31 of 36 podium finishers in the six world marathon majors were wearing Vaporflys.
Coe Relaxed about Shoe Effect
When asked about whether the new shoes would lead to a clutch of world records being beaten, World Athletics president Seb Coe says those sorts of times are reflective of innovations surrounding the sport.
“If you look at the collection we have assembled here, the one thing this collection does reflect is innovation,” he said at a virtual media conference to launch the Museum Of World Athletics.
“We have, just down the corridor from me, a glass case in which is Jesse Owens’ track singlet from Ann Arbor in 1935 when he broke the best part of five world records in less than an hour.
“So the answer to your question is we want to reflect every generation, and every innovation that has marked the history of our sport, certainly in modern times.”
Rules are in place to prevent unfair competition in the footwear market with athletes’ choice of shoes having to meet certain criteria.
The soles must be no thicker than 40mm and they must not contain more than one rigid embedded plate or blade running throughout the design.
Given their propensity to produce better results, athletes may be queuing to get their own set of high-tech footwear for the games.
As a result, it almost seems inevitable that athletes will be pushing each other to an extent that records will be broken, particularly in distance running.