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American track star Parker Valby wins NCAA 10,000m title in controversial shoes

Valby wore customized Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 track spikes, which are 40 mm high

Parker valby Photo by: Kevin Morris

There is no doubt University of Florida athlete Parker Valby is one of the best American distance runners on the scene today; on Thursday, she earned her fifth career NCAA track and field title, winning the women’s 10,000m event in a championship record 31:46.09. After the race, Valby told Citius Mag she had a boost from her custom 40 mm stack height Vaporfly Next% 3 track spikes, which, if the NCAA followed World Athletics competition rules, would be illegal. 

Since there are no rules against 40 mm shoes (with or without spikes) or prototypes in the NCAA, Valby was allowed to wear them. In World Athletics-accredited competitions, track spikes with a stack height over 25 mm are not allowed. When Valby was asked about her spikes post-race, she said Nike made them for her and presented several options for this race.

The Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 is typically used for road racing, and features a carbon-fibre plate and a max-cushioning midsole with a 40 mm stack height in the heel. This combination of the carbon-fibre plate and foam on impact increases energy return, meaning more of the runner’s exerted energy is converted into forward motion, improving speed and reducing fatigue. With spike pins added, this shoe would certainly enhance performance significantly on the track. 

Nike Vaporfly Next% 3
The Nike Vaporfly Next% 3. Photo: @triathletecb76/Instagram

Valby, 21, was the only athlete in the women’s 10,000m final wearing these max-cushioned custom spikes, and she made it look easy, spending the first few laps of the 10,000m waving to herself on the Hayward Field jumbotron. Since USATF follows World Athletics competition rules, Valby’s winning time from this race would not be eligible for the U.S. Olympic Trials 10,000m qualification (though it doesn’t matter, since she has previously run a qualification time wearing a WA-legal pair of spikes).

World Athletics introduced in-competition stack height rules in 2021 to ensure fairness, maintain the integrity of the sport and address the performance advantages provided by technological advancements in footwear. As things stand in the NCAA, athletes who wear shoes with a heel stack height over the legal 25 mm will not have their times count for anything outside of the NCAA; this makes monitoring the issue extremely complicated, with hundreds of meets condensed over a 3.5-month season.

Parker Valby
Parker Valby is a five-time NCAA champion with the Florida Gators, indoors and outdoors. Photo: Kevin Morris

Valby will compete again at the 2024 NCAA Track and Field Championships on June 8 in the women’s 5,000m. She has not stated whether she will wear her personal prototype shoe. She is the reigning NCAA champion over the distance.

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