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13 Nov 2019 10:59
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  •   Home > News > International

    Eliud Kipchoge's sub-two-hour marathon record sparks debate over runner's shoes

    Eliud Kipchoge's stunning feat in breaking the two-hour marathon mark was the sixth time this year that runners wearing versions of a new Nike shoe have set some of the fastest times in history. Other athletes are complaining that the shoes offer "a clear

    Eliud Kipchoge's feat in breaking marathon's mythical two-hour barrier has sparked calls for a difficult new conversation — did the shoes he wore provide an unfair advantage?

    Kipchoge's ground-breaking time of one hour, 59 minutes and 40.2 seconds captivated the world, but it was conducted in a carefully stage-managed event in ideal conditions on a "pancake-flat" course in Vienna.

    Already the world record holder and Olympic champion, Kipchoge benefitted from a team of 41 elite pacemakers who ran in a V formation and were guided by a laser to identify the ideal position in which to run.

    A support team also fed him drinks and nutrition from bikes.

    And he wore a specially designed pair of shoes, which critics have said feature a "spring-like mechanism" that aids performance.

    The unveiling of Kipchoge's bespoke shoes in the lead-up to the Vienna event almost attracted as much media exposure as his run itself.

    They are a special version of the Nike Vaporfly Next%.

    The shoes include carbon fibre plates in the midsole and it's claimed they improve running performances.

    The five fastest official times in history, including Kipchoge's world record of 2:01:39 set in September 2018, have all come in the last 12 months by athletes wearing the shoes.

    Seven of the top-10 men's marathon runners of all time, all wearing the shoes, have set their best times in the last year.

    Women's world record holder Brigid Kosgei — who broke Paula Radcliffe's 16-year-old mark last week, was also wearing the same footwear.

    Now-retired American runner Ryan Hall, who finished 10th in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics, has called for the athletics world governing body to step in to ensure that runners are not being disadvantaged by not having access to the shoes.

    "With all due respect to [Kipchoge] as he is clearly the greatest marathoner of all-time regardless of the shoe he is in [but] when a shoe company puts multiple carbon fibre plates in a shoe with a cushion between the plates, it is no longer a shoe," Hall wrote on Instagram.

    "It's a spring, and a clear mechanical advantage to anyone not in those shoes.

    "I'm just hoping [the International Amateur Athletic Federation, or IAAF] makes sure the upcoming Olympics and [World Marathon Majors] are fair playing fields for athletes of all brands."

    He later clarified his statement, saying he was not trying to take away from Kipchoge's amazing performances.

    "The only reason I posted was simply to state my opinion that shoes need to be regulated with strict rules so that it's an even playing field for elites across all brands," he said.

    "I'm all about [advancements] in technology that help us run faster. But I don't think athletes should be losing races because they are in a shoe that doesn't have a spring-like mechanism in them.

    "This isn't about unreleased prototypes not being available, it's about mechanical advantage. Other sports have limits they place on the gear — cycling, triathlon, golf. So needs track and field."

    British newspaper The Times reported that a group of athletes had already complained to the IAAF about the shoe, and that the federation had reportedly set up a "working group to consider the issues".

    "The challenge for the IAAF is to find the right balance in the technical rules between encouraging the development and use of new technologies in athletics and the preservation of the fundamental characteristics of the sport: accessibility, universality and fairness," the IAAF said in a statement.

    Mechanical advantage not a new problem in sport

    Swimming and cycling have also had to consider how to deal with technical developments providing too much of an advantage to athletes.

    Swimming's world governing body, FINA, moved in 2009 to ban "fast suits" that provided extra buoyancy and reduced drag in the water.

    FINA launched a review of technology in swimming suits after 100 world records were broken in the space of 18 months.

    The men's 100-metre freestyle record is case in point.

    Pieter van den Hoogenband's world record stood for eight years after the Sydney Olympics before being broken seven times between March 2008 and July 2009. It has not been broken since fast suits were banned.

    World cycling's governing body, the UCI, announced it was introducing "rigorous testing" during this year's Giro d'Italia to detect hidden motors inside the frames of bikes — including magnetic scanning and X-rays.

    The UCI has been working on a tracker that can be fitted onto every bike in the peloton to detect whether a motor is used at any point in the race.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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