The Controversy Behind Nike’s Vaporfly Running Shoe, Explained | WSJ

Technological doping: no marathons can be run in Nike sneakers

Recently, the International Association of Athletics Federation made a decision that may have a strong impact on the results of athletes in the future. The organization has revised the rules of the competition and banned going to the start in running shoes, which significantly improve the quality and speed of running. The distribution hit the Nike VaporFly Alphas. The model that set the historic world record in marathon distance is now called technological doping.

Faster, higher, stronger: what is the advantage of the Nike line VaporFly?

A few years ago, Nike set itself the goal of launching a line of running shoes that would overcome the two-hour milestone in marathon running. In 2018, the brand launched the Zoom VaporFly 4% model. The main emphasis was placed on the foam sole. It was manufactured using a special technology using a carbon fiber plate and, according to research, did indeed reduce energy consumption during running by the promised 4%. This was due to the high stability of the outsole and the spring effect.

Next, an updated version called ZoomX VaporFly Next% appeared on the shelves. After a while, it became clear that these sneakers became almost the most popular model for running. For example, in Great Britain the first line was sold out so quickly that dealers were not taken aback and began to sell shoes 2.5 times more expensive - for about 80 thousand rubles. Although the real price of the model in Russia is a little more than 30 thousand rubles.

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Nike VaporFly Alphas: what is not so with Kipchoge sneakers?

Shortly after the release, the sneaker's advantage became apparent in practice. Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge set a men's world record at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. The athlete covered the mileage in 2 hours 1 minute. A year later, the athlete shocked the whole world, for the first time running 42.2 km in less than 2 hours - in 1 hour 59 minutes. This time Nike has made for him a unique VaporFly Alphas model, which is not available for sale.

The sole of the sneaker, designed specifically for Kipchoge, consists of three layers of carbon fiber and a layer of dense foam. This gives the athlete the opportunity to further increase speed and endurance at distance than if he was running in existing models. By the way,the height of such a sole is as much as 50 mm! The 4% and Next% lines have significantly lower rates: 31 and 36 mm, respectively.

Is that fair? The opinion of experts and athletes about new technologies

Another world record was set at the 2019 Chicago Marathon, now among women. Bridget Cosgei , an athlete from Kenya, covered the distance in 2 hours and 14 minutes. She did it in Next%. It looks like the innovative sneaker really works. Indeed, over the past year, 31 out of 36 marathon winners ran the distance in Nike VaporFly.

Such statistics alarmed the association of athletes, and they conducted an independent examination lasting several months. The sneakers were also tested by The New York Times. Experts have concluded that the Nike Zoom VaporFly 4% and ZoomX VaporFly Next% allow athletes to run 4-5% faster. But, apparently, such numbers were not so critical, so only Kipchoge's VaporFly Alphas sneakers were blacklisted.

After the research, athletes and experts began to express different opinions about the development of new technologies. The President of the International Association of Athletics Federation Sebastian Ku said that it is in his competence to make competitions fair, so shoes should not give an athlete an unfair advantage. And Bryce Dyer , sports technologist, compared Nike VaporFly running with a pistol in a knife fight.

But Eliud Kipchoge believes that modern runners should keep up with technology, and running in unique sneakers was fair. His words were quoted by the British newspaper The Guardian:

Technological doping: no marathons can be run in Nike sneakers

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Previously, the association prohibited the use of springs in running shoes, but now new requirements have been added ... Starting April 30, 2020, international marathons will only be allowed to run in models that have been on the free market for at least four months. Moreover, the width of the sole should not exceed 40 mm, and there should be only one plate in it. And until the end of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the organization imposed a ban on the invention of new technologies in the production of specialized sneakers.

So no doping - not even technological!

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