Marathon: Nike sneakers deemed too fast illustrate the eternal debate of technology in sport – 20 Minutes

The new "Vaporfly" prototype that Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge sported when he broke the world marathon record. – ALEX HALADA / AFP

  • Accused of being spring-loaded sneakers, Nike's "Vaporfly" are debating among athletes.
  • Speedo jumpsuit, Pistorius prostheses, spaghetti rackets … These shoes are not the first gear to be debated in the history of sport.
  • Will the "Vaporfly" enter the cemetery of forbidden innovations or in the ways and customs? It is up to the major sports bodies to decide.

Genius or unfair competition? While the most famous marathon in the world takes place this Sunday in New York, a pair of sneakers that many runners should wear for the occasion, is debate. These are the "Vaporfly", one of the latest models of
Nike, worn by three marathoners medalists at the Rio Games, but also eight of the ten winners of the five major marathons in 2019. On October 12, the Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge sported a brand new prototype of "Vaporfly" when he broke the record of the marathon world by finishing
below the two o'clock mark. Their particularity? Three carbon blades and four air cushions in the soleplate. Innovation too much for some.

"It's no longer a shoe, it's a spring," Ryan Hall, the US record-holder for Half Marathon, wrote on Instagram. On October 15, athletes seized the International Athletics Federation (IAAF), accusing the shoe of giving an "unfair" advantage to those who wear it, reports the British newspaper. The Times. The IAAF has since set up a working group to "encourage the development and use of new technologies while preserving the fundamental characteristics of sport". So will the "Vaporfly" enter the cemetery of forbidden innovations? These sneakers that run (too) fast are in any case not the first equipment to debate in the history of sport.

The Speedo suit and the Pistorius blades

Mid-February 2008, Australian swimmer Eamon Sulliver breaks the world record of the 100-meter, eight-year-old. The latter is wearing the Speedo LZR Racer suit. Quickly, other swimmers adopt this equipment and in two months, 36 world records are exploded with it. The polyurethane suit is then accused of floating the athletes and making their swim easier. In all, until July 2009, more than a hundred records were broken before the International Swimming Federation decided to ban the LZR Racer from 2010.

In 2015, the International Athletics Federation banned the participation of an athlete with prostheses at the Worlds. A decision after the debate around the prostheses of Oscar Pistorius (now imprisoned for the murder of his companion). Amputee of both legs, the athlete ran with blades under the knees and, in view of his performances, participated in competitions handisports but also "for valid". Except that according to some, his blade prostheses gave him an advantage.
A German study will confirm it.

Spaghetti racket VS fiberglass pole

In 1977, tennis player Michael Fishbach went to the Us Open with a racket, whose sieve was made of venetian blinds, plastic tubes and tape. This "Spaghetti racket" as he calls it, makes the ball make unpredictable rebounds that destabilize his opponents. Several players will eventually adopt this improbable racket before the American Tennis Federation prohibits it and the International Federation imposes in May 1978 a "uniform" string ".

All innovations improving the performance of athletes, have not gone to the door so far. For example, fiberglass poles became popular in the world of pole vaulting, after Brian Sternberg broke the five-meter mark with one of them in 1963 in Philadelphia. In 1954, the Japanese table tennis had, them, scandal when arriving with foam racquets, immediately banned in France. Finally, an agreement was found for snowshoes with two maximum foam minima and with spikes on top.

The place of technology in sport has always been questioned and borders remain porous. It would seem that innovations are allowed as long as they do not distort the discipline and do not pose a problem of equity. For the "Vaporfly", the appreciation will go back to the big sports authorities.

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