Are Nike’s Ultra-Fast Vaporfly Sneakers a Big Problem for Asics?

In the race to outfit the world’s fastest runners, Nike has pulled far ahead of the competition.

In October, the ZoomX Vaporfly Next%, which the sportswear giant has called its “fastest” sneaker yet, was the shoe of choice for two record-setting runs in both the men’s and women’s marathon. And on January 3, the style again asserted its dominance at the fiercely competitive Tokyo-Hakone Ekiden race, overtaking Japanese athletic brands Asics and Mizuno on their home turf.

According to statistics compiled by Ekiden News and reported by Bloomberg, more than 84% of contestants in the two-day relay race wore Nike’s high-performance style, including all members of the 10-person winning team.

The champions, hailing from Aoyama Gakuin University, have historically chosen Adidas sneakers. In 2019, they were among 39 competitors who wore the German brand’s sneakers; for the 2020 race, that number dropped to just seven.

Similarly, local brands Asics and Mizuno saw their numbers fall to seven and nine runners in this year’s race, respectively, down from 51 and 24 in 2019.

On Monday, Asics Corp.’s share price dropped 3.8%, while Mizuno Corp.’s fell 0.9% — a sign that investors may be concerned that the companies will continue to lose market share if they can’t keep up with Nike’s innovations. This is worrying for both Japanese brands, which are among the top choices for runners worldwide. But Asics, in particular, has close ties to Nike given that the latter brand was founded to distribute Onitsuka Tiger (now Asics) shoes in the United States. As one footwear retailer put it, “there’s no Nike without Asics.”

When the latest iteration of the ZoomX Vaporfly Next% launched last spring, Nike VP of Running Footwear Brett Holts said the shoe was, “the result of our athletes, sports scientists, engineers and designers closely collaborating throughout the entire process of design, testing and manufacturing.”

“We are all so excited to see the NEXT% continue to push the limits of human performance on marathon courses around the world,” he added.

The shoe was worn by Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge in his record-setting Vienna marathon race, which he ran in 1:59:40, becoming the first person to run marathon distance in less than two hours.

The following day, Kenyan runner Brigid Kosgei set the fastest time for a woman in a marathon, running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in just 2:14:04, beating the previous world record of 2:15:25 set by Paula Radcliffe at the 2003 London Marathon.

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