Just blew it.
Nike is making headlines again for the company’s controversial Vaporfly sneaker that could be regulated or outright banned by World Athletics, the Stockholm organization that oversees international running competitions. A ruling is expected by the end of the month, the group announced this week.
The Nike Zoom Vaporfly has come under intense scrutiny after multiple world records were broken by elite runners wearing the shoe. In October, Eluid Kipchoge clocked an incredible 1 hour 59 minute marathon in Vienna, becoming the first person to run the marathon in under two hours. One day later, Brigid Kosgei set the women’s world record at the Chicago Marathon with a time of 2 hours 14 minutes. Both marathoners wore versions of Vaporfly sneakers.
The rules on the matter are vague: World Athletics states shoes may not confer an “unfair advantage” and must be “reasonably available” to all, but the statute fails to define those criteria.
World Athletics, formerly known as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), announced in the fall that the body would convene experts to review the shoe and the wording of the rule. An announcement is expected by the end of the month, according to head of communications, Nicole Jefferies.
The discussion of a ban has sparked a larger discussion of technology’s evolving role in sports. In 2009, FINA, the Lausanne-based international federation that administers competitions for water sports, instituted a ban on high-tech polyurethane-based suits after swimmers wearing the suits shattered nearly all world records. Claims were made that the suits lowered swimmers’ times by as much as 2 percent.
Another possible scenario is a regulation to the thickness of a shoe’s midsole. Most running shoes have a 1-inch thick midsole. The current Vaporfly models’ midsoles are 1.4 inches thick.
The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% first debuted in 2016 around the Rio Olympics. The shoe was released to the public in July 2017 and retails for $250 a pair in the United States. The press release touts that its unique features “can make runners, on average, four percent more efficient than Nike’s previous fastest marathon shoe.”
The primary technological development is the shoe’s full-length carbon plate which is fused to the midsole. The plate is “intended to minimize energy loss during toe bend without increasing demand for the calf,” according to Nike. Put simply, the midsole of a shoe acts like a spring and the Vaporfly’s carbon-fiber plate minimizes the loss of energy, giving runners a greater forward push.
Multiple companies have attempted to copy Nike’s game-changing shoe with lesser success. Independent studies confirm that the Nike variant increases speed by four percent or more.
The decision could be appealed by Nike via the Court of Arbitration for Sport, an independent institution dedicated to settling sports-related disputes. An appeal could take up to a year, which could have implications for athletes competing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.