Insiders Weigh In on Nike’s Controversy With Runner Eliud Kipchoge’s High-Tech Shoes

The controversy around the record set by Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge continues to heat up as he became the first person to run marathon distance in less than two hours, accomplishing the feat in Vienna with a time of 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds.

On his feet was a future edition of Nike’s Next% shoe. While the style featured next generation technology, industry insiders are divided about whether he achieved the feat due to his athletic abilities, or was aided in part by the performance features.

Dan Fitzgerald, owner of Heartbreak Hill Running Company, said today many runners are going the distance in prototype footwear from a range of athletic brands. “Since the [Nike] Next% and 4% came out, every shoe company is developing a shoe with similar technology,” he said about footwear engineering, especially when it comes to carbon fiber components, noting the shoe is not the first to use this design element.

Although Kipchoge had access to the next generation of running shoes, Fitzgerald said it doesn’t take away from his ability. Instead, “It’s a way to redefine the limits of what a person can do. It’s part of a package, but not the only thing. For me, it doesn’t lessen his [achievement]. It’s the culmination of the highest-level athlete with the best technology. The shoes are just another fun element.”

Matt Powell, VP and senior industry advisor for NPD, said there’s really no way of definitively knowing whether the shoes contributed to his speed and would like to see other runners compete in a marathon wearing the shoes and see how they do.

“Certainly, no one has run 26.2 miles in under two hours,” he added. “It’s an amazing achievement, but there are several qualifications that come with it, in particular [the fact] it was not a marathon.”

For Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running Company, a well-designed shoe could give a runner an advantage. “Anybody wearing a shoe that’s properly built with the right energy return and plates is going to be faster.” However, he emphasized, the shoes should not detract from his success. “Shoes already make a big difference versus not wearing them. The [fact] they’re lighter, more aero dynamic doesn’t lessen [the achievement] — except if for some reason there’s a motor in them.”

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