The Olympic battle for the supremacy of footwear technology
For the first time in more than a dozen years, the athletics events of the Olympic Games do not have a clear hero. From Beijing 2008 until his retirement in 2017, Jamaican sprinter and fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, had drawn all the attention in the preparation and during the summer games. However, before Tokyo 2020, the buzz about Bolt’s height was gone. What has been rich in discussions around a new shoe technology that uses carbon plates in the soles. This innovation helps the athlete who wears them to improve their performance by around 4%. It may seem like a small number, but at the peak of elite racing it can easily mean the difference between a medal and no medal, between a new record and none, between a qualification for the final and a crash.
The first brand to successfully use carbon plate technology in their shoes was Nike. The company first developed road running shoes and, using one of the first avatars of Nike carbon technology shoes, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, current marathon world record holder and reigning Olympic champion, became the first man to run a full marathon in less than two hours. although in a controlled environment in Vienna, Austria, in 2019. After successfully incorporating and refining the carbon plate technology shoes used by marathon runners, Nike successfully transferred the technology to the running spikes used by sprinters who participate in track events.
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Other brands including rivals Adidas, Puma and Asics have also successfully incorporated carbon technology into their shoes and all are on display at the Olympics where the competition is first class and the winning margins slim. However, it appears that despite the best efforts of rival brands, an emerging theme of Tokyo 2020 is Nike’s supremacy.
The new technology inserts a rigid carbon plate between the layers of cushioning foam in the sole. The carbon plate acts like a spring, returning more energy to the runner than regular shoes, helping the runner to go faster. World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said earlier this year that the new shoe design with carbon plates will play a role in any world records broken at Tokyo 2020.
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In addition to the more technically advanced shoes, another innovation is the track used in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium for athletics events. This extremely fast track was developed by the Italian company Mondo. The company’s website says the track transformed the “specific needs of athletes into new technologies and applied them to the MONDOTRACK WS, which was used for the Rio 2016 Olympics, to optimize it for the Tokyo Games. 2020 “. The company adds that the new track optimizes energy response, which is just another way of saying it’s super fast.
There is already plenty of evidence of what is likely to happen over the next few days at Tokyo 2020 as new shoe technology and, to a lesser extent, new track technology work in tandem. On August 3, Norway’s Karsten Warholm shattered his own world record in the 400m hurdles as he returned home in 45.94 seconds. Even runner-up Rai Benjamin (46.17 seconds) ran the race under the old world record of 46.70 seconds. Simultaneously, six of the top seven set national or continental records for the race.
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In the women’s 100m final, Jamaican sprinter and Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson-Herah broke Florence Griffith Joyner’s Olympic record (10.62 seconds) as she clinched a gold in 10 , 61 seconds. Puerto Rican Jasmine Camacho-Quinn set a new Olympic record en route to gold in the women’s 100-meter hurdles. In the men’s 100m final, the Italian Lamont Marcell Jacobs became the new champion with a time of 9.80 seconds, which is the new European record. Besides gold medals and new records, what united Thompson-Herah, Camacho-Quinn and Jacobs were the Nike superspikes they raced in. Earlier, in the men’s 100m semi-finals, China’s Su Bingtian set his personal best of 9.83 seconds. in a pair of Nike cleats and was the fastest finalist on the 100m starting blocks.
Ethiopian-born Dutch runner Sifan Hassan, who won gold on August 2 in the women’s 5,000m race, will run the 1,500m and 10,000m in Tokyo and has already set a world record for this race. last in June of this year. She did it all with her Nike running cleats. Soufiane El Bakkali, who made history by winning Morocco’s first gold medal and also ending Kenyan dominance in the men’s 3000m steeplechase on Monday, also wore Nike spikes. The men’s 10,000m race was won by Ethiopian Selemon Barega, again, in a pair of Nike.
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It’s too early to call a winner, but Nike has an early lead over its rivals. The footwear technology wars are expected to peak over the weekend – the last two days of the Tokyo Olympics – when the women’s and men’s marathons take place in Sapporo on Saturday and Sunday respectively. When the fastest marathoner in the world and the only one to cross the 2 hour barrier, Kenyan Kipchoge shows up in his carbon-plate Nike shoes to defend his Olympic title, it won’t just be a race between the finest. long-distance runners world, but also a competition between shoe brands for technological supremacy.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer, editor and co-author of The Shivfit method, a book on functional fitness.