Prohibited Nike Vaporfly running shoes still good for Tokyo 2020

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World Athletics (WA), the world governing body for track and field sports, has banned certain variants of Nike’s Vaporfly running shoes for elite competition and announced significant changes to its rules on shoe technology. But athletes can still run at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in the controversial shoes, which enhance the wearer’s performance by several notches.

World Athletics in a Press release on Friday last said it had banned from use in elite competition prototype versions of the Vaporfly that have not yet been released for public sales, such as those worn by Eluid Kipchoge to break the world marathon record last October.

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Models of the Vaporfly that have already been released for the public will continue to be allowed. From April 30, any shoe used for the elite competition must have been available to the public for four months. The measure is designed to prevent athletes from gaining a competitive edge by using prototypes from Nike and other brands in major races.

The world governing body for track and field said it will allow the existing version of Nike’s Vaporfly shoe to be worn in elite competition this summer, as it has set new restrictions on footwear.

However, it said it will continue to investigate the technology used in this shoe, and similar shoes by competitors, to make sure “the integrity of the sport” isn’t compromised. “It is not our job to regulate the entire sports shoe market, but it is our duty to preserve the integrity of elite competition by ensuring that the shoes worn by elite athletes in competition do not offer any unfair assistance or advantage,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

“As we enter the Olympic year, we don’t believe we can rule out shoes that have been generally available for a considerable period of time, but we can draw a line by prohibiting the use of shoes that go further than what is currently on the market while we investigate further,” Coe mentioned.

WA also announced that road shoes must have soles no thicker than 40mm and not contain more than one rigid, embedded plate.

“I believe these new rules strike the right balance by offering certainty to athletes and manufacturers as they prepare for Tokyo 2020 while addressing the concerns that have been raised about shoe technology”, Coe added.

The rules review by WA comes after Eluid Kipchoge and fellow Kenyan runner Brigid Kosgei ran a sub-two-hour marathon and broke the women’s marathon world record, respectively, wearing prototype Nike shoes. The shoes contained three-carbon plates inside thick, ultra-compressed foam soles, which Nike said helped improve the ‘running economy’ by up to four percent.

Nike released the Vaporfly in 2016, and various versions have quickly come to dominate the elite and ‘serious recreational’ side of the road running. The distinctive pink and green footwear, which costs around $250 and have a lifespan of only around 200 miles (321km), is now widespread throughout the fields of every major race.

WA concluded from a study that the new technology “may provide a performance advantage and could raise concerns that it might threaten the integrity of the sport”.

However, WA said any records set under the previous rules will stand.

The governing body will now establish an expert working group for future research into shoe technology and to assess all new shoes that sportswear brands bring to the market.

WA’s decision is based on a similar precedent set by swimming’s governing body Fina, which a decade ago banned Speedo’s record-breaking LZR speed suit.

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