Record-setting super shoes are here to stay, experts say

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Tokyo (AFP)

Mocked by purists, evangelized by innovators: “super shoes” are the tool of the trade for today’s athletes and will continue to radically change the landscape of track and road running, experts say to AFP.

A slew of not only new world records, but also a host of surprising national and personal bests since Rio 2016 Olympic athletes flourished thanks to new technology that has taken the biomechanics of the running shoe to a new level. new level.

When the Olympic track and field program kicks off in Tokyo on Friday, many athletes will be wearing ultralight shoes that contain a stiff plate and unique foam that gives a feeling of propulsion with every stride.

Critics say the shoes, first developed by Nike, are the equivalent of mechanical doping, while supporters hail them as a revolutionary step forward after decades of stagnation.

“It now looks like the next generation of shoes is part of the sport that moves forward,” Geoff Burns, researcher in biomechanics and athletic performance at the University of Michigan and expert in shoe technology at the University of Michigan, told AFP. race.

“We definitely don’t hear from people calling for a shoe ban at this point anymore.”

US journalist Brian Metzler, author of “Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes,” said there was wider acceptance, largely because “all brands have caught up with Nike and because that there is a better understanding of how school technology works “.

“The key factors for acceptance are ensuring that there is a level playing field and also the notion that there is no extra energy created by the shoes, but rather a better return on the shoe. energy of force that the runner applies with each stride, ”Metzler told AFP.

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Athletes, added Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon winner and former editor of Runner’s World magazine, “only care about running fast, and they’ve realized they have to wear new shoes – no. any business – if they have to face the competition “.

He said: “I doubt the general public cares much about the shoes or understands them. That leaves only sports historians and sports statisticians to debate what they should do about the new fast performances.”

– ‘A real jet lag’ –

The technology, which exists in “flat” running shoes and cleats, is endorsed by athletics governing body, World Athletics, albeit with parameters set on foam thickness, among others.

The designs “have proven to make a runner more efficient and that’s a big change, especially from 800m to 10,000m,” Metzler said.

“Some athletes have told me that the new spikes can provide a boost of five to 15 seconds in the 5,000m, so it’s a real time difference.”

Burns said it takes time to understand the rarity of a performance, saying the sport “always adapts to the fastest times.”

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey wore these shoes when she broke the women’s 10,000m world record in June. His time of 29 min 1.03 sec cut more than a minute from his previous record.

And Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei used the shoes to set the men’s 5,000m world record clocking 12: 35.36 last year.

“The way the fast performances in distance and half-distance races are celebrated by fans, advertisers and the media is still probably overstated for their respective importance,” said Burns.

“That is to say the sport still hasn’t completely recalibrated what’s good and what’s good. It will take a little longer and more races.

“I think by the end of next year we’ll be close, and within two years we’ll have a good idea of ​​what really is an outstanding performance in the new age.”

The more advanced the technology, Burns continued, the more it invites “complexity in sport, for athletes, fans and governing bodies.”

Metzler added: “With the running events the die has been cast and we are already in a place where the new shoes have improved human performance.

“It’s mostly a good thing, I think, but we have to realize that 5,000m (for men) in less than 13 minutes today is not the same as it was in David Moorcroft’s time. , Said Aouita or Bob Kennedy “in recent decades. .

Burns believes, however, that there will “probably not” be world records in Tokyo.

“Cleats and shoes right now are primarily beneficial in distance races, and distance records are rarely set in championships because they are often tactical.”

Burfoot agrees: “The Olympics are about winning and losing.

“World records are more likely to occur at one-day events under optimal conditions.”

The three experts agreed that many top athletes did not see their form drop during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying many benefited from the extra rest and training.

“The athletes are healthy, ready, excited and wearing great shoes! Burfoot said.


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