Nike VaporFlys: Breaking Records and Rules with New Sneaker Technology
Eliud Kipchoge was given the perfect storm in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge to break the two-hour marathon barrier that has loomed over elite distance runners for years. His training regimen was rigid: there was little to no incline on the course: he had elite runners pacing him the whole way: and he propelled himself forward the day of the race to a one hour and fifty-nine minute marathon on the prototypes of a "super-shoe" that now defines and divides the running community: the Nike VaporFlys.
The VaporFlys have changed the face of marathon running by increasing an athlete's energetic efficiency by at least four percent through the innovative technology in the shoe’s sole. VaporFlys contain “a combination of Pebax foam in the midsole and a carbon fiber plate that’s sandwiched inside the shoes.” Nike’s patented carbon plate acts like a spring that compresses when a runner lands, storing energy, and then expands while returning the stored energy back into the ground in order to push the runner forward.  All of this plainly amounts to the runner having the sensation of running on trampolines- but is this “technological doping” or an innovation that will alter the face of elite marathon racing? 
In order to address this question and the possible competitive advantage that comes from the VaporFlys, World Athletics, the world governing body for track and field athletes formerly known as the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), set shoe requirements that elite runners must follow in competition. A group of experts within World Athletics investigates new shoes hitting the market and assists in drafting the regulations for sneakers based on their findings. Their most recent regulations, laid out in January of 2020, detail thickness requirements for the soles of shoes and define how the embedded carbon plates may be structured. Despite a great deal of skepticism and speculation, the Nike VaporFlys still managed to obtain a stamp of approval by removing one of the carbon plates that was present in the original prototype Kipchoge wore for his sub-two-hour marathon. Even though the shoes received approval for competition, there is still considerable speculation that they are unnatural and offer a glaring unfair advantage.
So where do we draw the line? The president of World Athletics has stressed that the goal with these updated regulations is to ensure “that the shoes worn by elite athletes in competition do not offer any unfair assistance or advantage,” and that they aim to “draw a line by prohibiting the use of shoes that go further than what is currently on the market”. Despite these praiseworthy goals, companies like Nike will continue to adapt their shoes and modify them when regulations are released in order to sidestep the rules and avoid outright bans. It is up to World Athletics to take a firmer stance through its regulations in order to maintain running as a natural sport. Races “should not be decided by who wears the best shoe, but by who has the optimal combination of physiology, psychology, and tactics.”.
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