Much has been said in the running media about the Nike Vaporfly and NEXT% and their impact on marathon times among elites. As the date of the US Marathon Trials approaches (February 29, 2020), at least one American marathoner is increasingly concerned about fairness of competition if the latest iteration of the Vaporfly is available to Nike athletes competing for one of those coveted spots on Team USA.
Kinda nervous as to how this would affect the Olympic Trials over here @usatf
— Molly Huddle (@MollyHuddle) November 25, 2019
Yesterday Molly Huddle, who has the sixth-fastest marathon time among American women in 2019 (she ran a personal best 2:26:33 at the London Marathon), replied to a tweet by sports journalist Cathal Dennehy about the AlphaFly, first seen on the feet of marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge, who raced to a 1:59:40 finish in them at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna last month. Huddle’s comment: “Kinda nervous as to how this would affect the Olympic Trials over here @usatf.”
Huddle, winner of 28 US national championships, is sponsored by Saucony, which may shortly bring out its own carbon-plated shoe, rumoured to be called the Endorphin Pro. (Canadian marathoner Krista DuChene wore a prototype of this shoe at the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon this year.) New Balance and Brooks are also expected to bring out carbon-plated shoes in the new year, and ASICS plans to release its version in time for the Olympics. Hoka released its CarbonX in 2019 and New Balance’s FuelCell 5280 has a carbon plate (though it’s made for the mile, not the marathon).
But there’s no arguing that Nike, now on its third iteration of the carbon-plated shoe, has dominated this space over the past year and longer, to the extent that podium finishers wearing something else are now the exception. (There have even been stories of non-Nike-sponsored runners wearing them and trying to disguise them.) On the men’s side, two of the top three times over the past two years are by Nike athletes (Galen Rupp and Leonard Korir), and there are three other Nike athletes in the top 10. So it’s entirely conceivable the US could send an all-Nike team to Tokyo. (The top three finishers, male and female, must have run standard by May 31, 2020.)
On the women’s side, it’s less likely. Sally Kipyego and Amy Cragg are the only Nike athletes in the top 10 by results over the past couple of years. So Huddle’s concern is not misplaced. If the US did send an all-Nike team of women to Tokyo, it would be hard not to conclude it was all because of the shoes.