The Sunday Times is reporting that World Athletics will likely soon ban the Nike shoes that have dominated headlines in the running world for the past 18 months, and that powered Brigid Kosgei to a new marathon world record at the Chicago Marathon last year.
For real? https://t.co/WySn6Ykj7g
— Pat Price (@PatrickPrice) January 15, 2020
The running press has been writing stories about Nike shoes and the possible performance advantages they offer ever since the Vaporfly 4% was released after Nike’s Breaking2 project in 2017.
Over time, it has become obvious that the Nike Vaporfly 4% and Vaporfly NEXT%, which have a thick layer of highly responsive Nike-patented foam in the midsole as well as an embedded carbon-fibre plate, have contributed to a significant drop in marathon times across the board. Numerous brands now offer shoes with a carbon-fibre midsole plate, while Nike’s latest model, the AlphaFly (worn by Eliud Kipchoge at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in October), incorporates not one but three carbon-fibre plates.
Kosgei is believed to have raced in a modified version of the NEXT% when she broke Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old world record in October, and she is set to defend her title at this year’s London Marathon on April 26. Some speculate that World Athletics will move to ban such shoes before then, and certainly before the Olympics, when UK middle distance runner Laura Muir (who is sponsored by Nike, and whose prototype racing flats provoked controversy last year) will compete.
But in a Twitter thread about the story, 24-hour world record-holder Camille Herron said it’s unlikely this will happen before the Tokyo Olympics.
“Wouldn’t believe it,” she wrote. “This is not what David Katz, who wrote the current shoe rules, said a month ago at the USATF meeting. He doesn’t believe they should or will do anything about the rules until after the Olympics.”
“There’s a technology working group and any recommendation they make would then go to the IAAF Council. David is not on this group, but he’s our “pulse” when we have questions on what’s happening at the IAAF level,” Herron goes on.
“As mentioned David Katz said they shouldn’t change the shoe rules until after the Olympics, if at all. There needs to be sound scientific evaluation to change the rules. He suggested limiting by energy return, not midsole thickness.”
The current rules stipulate that shoes must not give an unfair advantage and must be freely available to all athletes. Experts have debated how much of an advantage Nike’s shoes offer, and with the technology protected by multiple patents, how available it is to non-Nike athletes.
Some insiders have predicted a ban that would cover the very thick-soled AlphaFly but not the Vaporfly or NEXT% (which are slightly less thick), but some are now speculating about other ways of measuring and limiting the benefit conferred by the technology.