• Dominant footwear will be allowed by World Athletics
• No fresh technologies to be permitted until after Tokyo 2020
World Athletics will not be imposing a blanket ban on the controversial hi-tech Nike Vaporflys that have transformed athletics when it announces its long-awaited decision on shoe technology on Friday, the Guardian understands.
Instead the sport’s governing body is expected to announce a temporary suspension of any new shoe technology until after the Tokyo Olympics this summer, alongside the launch of a comprehensive research project to examine just how advantageous the shoes, and others like it from rival brands, are at elite level.
World Athletics is also likely to introduce a tighter set of regulations for new shoes in the future, including the need for companies to present any prototypes to it for approval before they can be used in competition.
Such has been the Vaporflys’ dominance in recent years that athletes wearing them claimed 31 of the 36 podium positions in the six world marathon majors in 2019.
The Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge also wore a pair when he set an official men’s world record in Berlin in 2018 with a time of 2hr 01min 39sec – while his compatriot Brigid Kosgei smashed Paula Radcliffe’s women’s record in the Next% version of the shoe last October in 2:14:04.
However the shoes, which were introduced in 2016, have deeply divided the athletics community, with some supporting the technological arms race as part of an inevitable evolution of the sport – and others warning that it is deeply unfair to athletes who are not sponsored by Nike.Advertisement
Kipchoge has denied that, saying: “They are fair. I trained hard. Technology is growing and we can’t deny it – we must go with technology.” But the small number of studies conducted on the Vaporflys suggest that, depending on the model and athlete, they can typically improve a person’s running economy by 4-5% – which translates to at least a minute- to 90-second advantage for an elite male runner over 26.2 miles and even more in an average club athlete.
Where that leaves the Nike AlphaFly, the next generation prototype shoes worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he ran the first sub-two hour marathon in October in an unofficial event is unclear. It is understood that these shoes – which are said to contain three carbon plates and improve running economy by 8% – have not yet been submitted to World Athletics experts for inspection.
Even if the AlphaFlys are banned at elite level there will be no restrictions on ordinary athletes buying and wearing them in races when they are released in the shops by Nike.
However the World Athletics working group is understood be stressing there needs to be far more detailed research into the performance benefits of the new wave of shoes – versions of which have also been recently introduced by New Balance, Hoka and Saucony. In particular it wants to establish how the height of the foam stack, the make of foam used, and the angle of the carbon plates can change speed and performance.
Such research, which is expected to be conducted at universities with the help of the shoe companies themselves, may also examine whether the shoes can help or hinder athletes who regularly run long distances when it comes to injuries.
Privately there are those in senior positions in track and field who accept the current rules, which state shoes “must not be constructed so as to give athletes any unfair assistance or advantage” have not been clear enough.
Crucially, however, World Athletics is expected to rule all shoes currently on the market which use hi-tech technology will remain legal. There will also be no restrictions on certain types of foam or the use of carbon plates.