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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Explained: Can a man run 100 metres in 9 seconds? Spikes may have the answer

Two phenomenal achievements in the marathon within a day of each other in October prompted the debate on whether advances in shoe technology are giving top runners an unfair advantage in an otherwise egalitarian sport.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Updated: January 17, 2020 1:37:51 pm
Eliud Kipchoge, Eliud Kipchoge world record, Kenya Eliud Kipchoge, Kipchoge Marathon world record, Eliud Kipchoge marothon runner indian express explained Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge became the first man to ‘break’ the two-hour barrier in the marathon and a day later, another Kenyan Brigid Kosgei shattered the 16-year-old women’s record by 81 seconds.

Impossible is nothing, ask Adidas… hmm Nike

Two phenomenal achievements in the marathon within a day of each other in October prompted the debate on whether advances in shoe technology are giving top runners, especially those contracted with Nike, an unfair advantage in an otherwise egalitarian sport. Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge became the first man to ‘break’ the two-hour barrier in the marathon and a day later, another Kenyan Brigid Kosgei shattered the 16-year-old women’s record by 81 seconds.

Both were wearing versions of Nike’s cutting-edge shoes comprising carbon-fibre plates, patented foam and air pods, in addition to being extremely light. Studies have shown and real-world race timings have proven that when worn by elite runners, these shoes can help shave off nearly 90 seconds over 42.195 kilometers, the length of a marathon course.

Kipchoge’s feat was his second attempt in a controlled environment comprising a flat track and a team of dedicated runners, while Kosgei did it at the Chicago marathon. A majority of the fastest timings in the marathon now belong to Nike-sponsored athletes.

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Marathon conquered, sprint events next

In track-and-field footwear, the bulk of the research and testing has been on long-distance running shoes and at the centre of it, for the past two years, has been the sustained push for a human being to break the two-hour marathon barrier. What got purists worried recently were whispers of Nike and other manufacturers working towards developing hybrid spikes, a cross between the sprinters’ shoe and something similar to what Kipchoge wore in Vienna — but with a much flatter sole — when he broke the two-hour marathon. At the World Championships in Doha, a few runners were spotted in what looked like a hybrid version of spikes but it largely went under the radar.

In late December, images appeared on social media of what appeared to be a prototype of beefed-up spikes with a thick front sole and a blade (presumably a carbon fibre plate) running from the top to mid-sole. Though it is still unclear which athlete is testing the pair and giving feedback, a number of top sprinters are contracted with Nike.

Also read | Technological doping? How technology aids running

The shoes comprise carbon-fibre plates, patented foam and air pods.

Can Bolt’s 9.58 seconds be bettered?

Is there a genuine threat to Usain Bolt’s world record of 9.58 seconds? Going by advances manufacturers have made in terms of the marathon shoe, there is reason to believe similar success could be achieved in sprints or even middle distance running. Actually, the chances of immediate improvement in timings in the 100 metres because of better shoe technology is greater because of fewer variables in the sprint as compared to the marathon, and the race being a linear one.

Unlike a marathon, which is run over two hours during which weather and wind conditions can vary and that too drastically, the 100 metres is often over is less than 10 seconds. Such a shoe in the hands of American Christian Coleman, a Nike athlete and one who posted the world-leading time of 9.76 seconds on way to winning the gold at the World Athletics Championships last year, could just be the propulsion tool that could help man go below 9.50 seconds. Bolt was and is a Puma brand ambassador.

Also read | New footwear technology that threatens iconic track and field records might soon draw the ire of World Athletics

Nike’s ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%. (Source: Nike)

Swoosh gains on track, rivals’ shares tumble

Shoe manufacturers are involved in an arms race to stay relevant across sport and in track and field, Nike being the current preferred choice. This is also pinching other companies where it hurts most — at the stock market. A day after the most famous relay marathon race in Japan, between Tokyo and Hakone held recently — Bloomberg reported that the share price of home brand Asics fell by 3.8 per cent. Stocks of Mizuno, another Japanese giant dipped by 0.9 per cent. The reason: More than 84 per cent of competitors wore the latest versions of Nike shoes during the relay marathon.

Another shoe manufacturer who was hit is Adidas, according to the report. Thirty-nine participants had worn the German brand on their feet in 2019. A year later, the number dropped to just 17. Asics and Mizuno fared even worse — seven and nine runners respectively from 51 and 24 in 2019.

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