'Mechanical advantage': New Nikes at centre of marathon controversy

Eliud Kipchoge's historic marathon achievement in Austria has come under fire due to the controversial footwear the Kenyan Olympic champion was wearing.

Kipchoge last week stunned the sporting world after becoming the first athlete to ever run a marathon in under two hours.

The Kenyan Olympic champion just set a world-first time at the INEOS 1:59 challenge in Vienna, Austria, completing the 26.2 mile course in one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds.

"This shows no-one is limited," the 34-year-old gold medallist said.

"Now I've done it, I am expecting more people to do it after me... This shows the positivity of sport. I want to make it a clean and interesting sport. Together when we run, we can make it a beautiful world."

However, the Kenyan’s extraordinary feat is being overshadowed by the cutting edge and controversial footwear the Olympic champion was wearing.

Kipchoge's Nike shoes are at the centre of a debate around technology.
Kipchoge's shoes have sparked a big debate about technology in sport. Pic: Getty

Kipchoge, according to the Nike website, wore the yet-to-be-commercially released version of the VaporFly Next% series, reinforcing the belief among marathoners that what you wear on your feet could be the single biggest difference when it comes to shaving off seconds and even minutes in the 42.195 kilometre race.

It opened up a heated debate about whether the hybrid shoe the Kenyan wore was akin to 'technological doping' and changed the sport of running into an arms race between sports-shoe manufacturers.

America’s half-marathon record holder Ryan Hall insists technological advances are creating an uneven playing field and some footwear could barely be classified as shoes anymore.

“With all due respect to Kipchoge, as he is clearly the greatest marathoner of all-time regardless of the shoes he is in, when a shoe company puts multiple carbon fibre plates in a shoe with cushion between the plates it is no longer a shoe, it’s a spring, and a clear mechanical advantage to anyone not in those shoes,” Hall wrote on Instagram.

“I’m just hoping the IAAF makes sure the upcoming Olympics and World Marathon Majors are fair playing fields for athletes of all brands.

“(But) shoes need to be regulated with strict rules so that it’s an even playing field for elite (runners) across all brands. I’m all about advances 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.”

While Kipchoge’s historic run in Vienna won't make it to the record books as it wasn't a competitive marathon, questions will still persist about what advantages he and other elite athletes have from the cutting edge footwear at their disposal.

Kipchoge completed the marathon with a team of 42 rotating pacemakers who ran with him, including former 5,000m world champion Bernard Lagat.

Kipchoge's marathon feat doesn't count as an official record.
Kipchoge's historic sub-two-hour marathon doesn't count as an official record. Pic: Getty

They were accompanied by a car which projected the right position on the track using a laser. Once it became clear that Kipchoge was going to complete the race under time, the pacemakers fell back so he could reach the finish line alone and victorious.

The use of help such as pacemakers, as well as the coaches who delivered water to him throughout the run, mean Kipchoge is not eligible for an official world record according to IAAF guidelines.

But Kipchoge had nothing but praise for his team following the race: "They are among the best athletes in the world - so thank you. I appreciate them for accepting this job. We did this one together."

Kipchoge already holds the official marathon world record, having completed the 2018 Berlin marathon in 2:01:39. In 2016, he won the gold medal in the marathon at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

With agencies