The controversial Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% was on the feet of many of the world’s top marathoners in 2017.
According to Nike, of the 36 possible top-three podium spots at the six annual Abbott World Marathon Majors, athletes in the Zoom Vaporfly 4% occupied an impressive 19 of those positions, including seven first-place finishes. “It’s gotta be the shoes,” Nike says in their infographic ad for the Zoom Vaporfly 4%, a racing flat that uses a carbon-fibre plate and Zoom X foam, which some sports scientists feel provides an unfair advantage. The shoe derived its name from the supposed four per cent performance increase produced by the technology.
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“The prototype shoes lowered the energetic cost of running by 4% on average,” a Nike-funded study, conducted at the University of Colorado in Boulder, concluded. “We predict that with these shoes, top athletes could run substantially faster and achieve the first sub-2-hour marathon.” The study compared the Zoom Vaporfly 4% to the Nike Zoom Streak 6 and the Adidas Adizero Adios Boost 2, two minimal and more conventional racing flats. The Adios Boost was on the feet of Dennis Kimetto back in 2014 when he set the current marathon world record of 2:02:57. Of course, Eliud Kipchoge ran substantially faster this past May, nearly breaking the two-hour barrier at the Breaking2 event in Italy, wearing a custom version of the Vaporfly (his 2:00:25 didn’t count as a world record for a variety of reasons, including that it was not held during a sanctioned marathon race).
The winners of this year’s Boston Marathon, Berlin Marathon, Chicago Marathon and New York City Marathon all wore the Nike Vaporfly 4%, or a variation of the shoe (usually the Elite version, which is a custom-made shoe for a select few Nike athletes).
So, we wondered, if “shoe doping” (as some have called it) is indeed taking place with this wild new technological advance, then what would these results have been minus the carbon-plated magic?
We did some quick math. As rough estimates, we calculated what the times achieved at the Abbott World Marathon Majors in the Nike Vaporfly 4% would have been (read: slower) had the athletes not worn the highly coveted Vaporfly. Of course, we are aware that this is an entirely unscientific approach to analyzing some pretty impressive results from some of the fastest runners in the world. But hey, it’s fun to crunch the numbers and pull apart the results.
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Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%-wearing athletes’ winning time and positions are listed below each Abbott World Major Marathon. (In some cases, a Nike athlete was omitted by Nike as they wore a different racing flat, like Rose Chelimo in Boston, who was not hooked up with a pair of the speedy shoes, but ran one heck of a race anyhow.)
2. Gideon Kipketer – 2:05:51 (without 4%: 2:10:53)
1. Edna Kiplagat – 2:21:52 (without 4%: 2:27:32)
3. Jordan Hasay – 2:23:00 (without 4%: 2:28:43)
1. Geoffrey Kirui – 2:09:37 (without 4%: 2:14:48)
2. Galen Rupp – 2:09:58 (without 4%: 2:15:10)
3. Suguru Osako – 2:10:28 (without 4%: 2:15:41)
2. Tirunesh Dibaba – 2:17:56 (without 4%: 2:23:27)
2. Kenenisa Bekele – 2:05:57 (without 4%: 2:10:59)
2. Ruti Aga – 2:20:41 (without 4%: 2:26:19)
1. Eliud Kipchoge – 2:03:32 (without 4%: 2:08:28)
3. Mosinet Geremew – 2:06:09 (without 4%: 2:11:12)
1. Tirunesh Dibaba – 2:18:31 (without 4%: 2:22:19)
3. Jordan Hasay – 2:20:57 (without 4%: 2:26:35)
1. Galen Rupp – 2:09:20 (without 4%: 2:14:30)
2. Abel Kirui – 2:09:48 (without 4%: 2:15:00)
New York City
1. Shalane Flanagan – 2:26:53 (without 4%: 2:32:46)
3. Mamitu Daska – 2:28:08 (without 4%: 2:34:04)
1. Geoffrey Kamworor – 2:10:53 (without 4%: 2:16:07)
3. Lelisa Desisa – 2:11:32 (without 4%: 2:16:48)
In fairness, the non-Vaporfly adjusted times do seem a bit on the slow side for all of these world class athletes, leading us to believe that perhaps its gotta be more than just the shoes.
And, just for fun, we ran the numbers of perhaps the most impressive performance of the year by a non-Nike marathoner: Mary Keitany’s women’s-only world record of 2:17:01 at the 2017 London Marathon. Keitany is an Adidas athlete, but if she’d been wearing the Vaporfly 4%, in theory, she would have maybe run 2:11:32. Yikes.