Pro athletes will be able to compete in Nike’s controversial Vaporfly sneakers at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, indicates a ruling by World Athletics.
The international sports governing body today announced major amendments to its rules on footwear worn in elite competition, imposing a ban on shoes with soles thicker than 40 millimeters or shoes that contain more than one plate. That limit is greater than the 36-millimeter sole of the Vaporfly, which also has a single embedded plate.
“It is not our job to regulate the entire sports shoe market, but it is our duty to preserve the integrity of elite competition by ensuring that the shoes worn by elite athletes in competition do not offer any unfair assistance or advantage,” said World Athletics president Sebastian Coe.
However, the new regulations also state that, starting April 30, any shoe to be used in competition must have been available for purchase on the retail market for a period of four months, effectively restricting the use of prototypes.
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That restriction does not bode well for Nike’s Alphafly — a prototype worn by Eliud Kipchoge, who became the first person to run the marathon distance in less than two hours last year. (The two-hour mark, like the four-minute mile, has long served as a symbolic challenge to how fast a person can run.) The sneaker is expected to be released in the coming months but unlikely to be permitted for competition unless it debuts with a reduced midsole.
Following Kipchoge’s feat, insiders began questioning the validity of his time, arguing that the next-generation tech in his sneakers aided him to reach his speedy finish. His time was also controversial due to the number of pacemakers who ran with him in alternate groups and did not count as a world record for this reason.
The tech used in the Nike sneakers employs responsive cushioning and a carbon-fiber plate to provide a propulsion sensation, allowing runners to exert less energy and make the most of the energy they’re expending — all of which enables them to run faster.
The rules could potentially impact the future of footwear technology as well as performance running brands that are experimenting with similar innovations.
“I believe these new rules strike the right balance by offering certainty to athletes and manufacturers as they prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, while addressing the concerns that have been raised about shoe technology,” Coe added. “If further evidence becomes available that indicates we need to tighten up these rules, we reserve the right to do that to protect our sport.”
FN has reached out to Nike for comment.
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