Nike stirs the pot with ‘game-changer’ running shoe in step with new rules

Nike stirs the pot with ‘game-changer’ running shoe in step with new rules
Eliud Kipchoge et al. running down the street in front of a crowd
Nike says its latest shoe is based on those worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he broke the two-hour barrier in Vienna last October. Photograph: Herbert Neubauer/APA/AFP via Getty Images

Just days after World Athletics belatedly introduced regulations to limit shoe technology, Nike has courted further controversy by announcing a new shoe that slips inside the rules despite hailing it as another “game changer”.

Nike confirmed that its new Air Zoom Alphafly Next% were based on the shoes worn by the Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran the marathon in under two hours in an unofficial race in October – a time nearly two minutes quicker than his legal world record.

But the new shoes, which look more like a platform boot than a traditional racing flat, will upset rival brands and athletes who believe it amounts to “technical doping” because Nike is using special foam and a carbon plate to create shoes that go much faster than their competitors.

The Guardian has spoken to two sources who have tried the Alphaflys. Both said they were ridiculously quick, with one adding that “even a little effort pushes you more forward than a regular shoe”.

Both also confirmed that they were much quicker than the Nike Vaporfly, which has revolutionised marathon running since being introduced in 2016. Over the past 18 months Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei have also set men’s and women’s world records in versions of the shoe.

The Vaporflys have also been shown to improve running economy by 4-5% – an improvement of around 90 secs for an elite male athlete in a marathon – but there are some suggestions that the Alphafly could be worth more like 7-8%.

A black and greeny yellow trainer
It has been suggested the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% could add 7-8% to running economy. Photograph: Nike

That will raise eyebrows. However Nike has confirmed to the Guardian that the Alphafly will be legal when it is released this summer. The company said its shoe has only one carbon fibre plate and a sole thickness of 39.5mm, which means it comes under the 40mm limit set last Friday by World Athletics.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Nike will also offer the shoe in limited quantities online by the end of the month, meaning it will also meet World Athletics’s requirement for new shoes to be available to the public by April in order to be eligible for the Tokyo Olympics.

“We are pleased the Nike Zoom Vaporfly series and Nike Zoom Alphafly NEXT% remain legal,” a Nike spokesperson told the Guardian. “We will continue our dialogue with World Athletics and the industry on new standards.”

Meanwhile the Nike vice-president, Tony Bignell, claimed that World Athletics’s new rules had forced it to think differently, despite the regulations being only a week old. “Barriers are inspiring to innovators,” he said. “Like athletes, when a barrier is in front of us, we are challenged to think differently and push game-changing progress in footwear design.”

However rival brands are known to be frustrated by the number of patents Nike has taken out on its shoe technology, which makes it hard for anyone else to catch up. Last week, the New Balance executive Tom Carleo said his company had developed shoes with technical foams and carbon fibre plates but it was “very concerned by the fact that these rules were adopted without meaningful consultation involving sporting goods industry representatives and companies”.

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