The Vaporfly conundrum
Athletics Weekly|January 23, 2020
AW’s SHOE GURU PAUL FREARY OFFERS SOME INSIGHT TO THE VAPORFLY DEBATE AND THE CURRENT FOOTWEAR ARMS RACE

MAINSTREAM media and broadsheet newspapers went into a frenzy last week reporting that Nike’s ZoomX Vaporfly Next% shoe was set to be banned by World Athletics.

Ultimately these reports were largely based on speculation and although WA says an inquiry is taking place, no such findings have yet been revealed.

If a shoe or shoes were likely to be banned, it would probably only take effect on models going forward and the likelihood of records or race wins being retrospectively erased or even “asterisked” is unlikely.

So, why the controversy? Since Eliud Kipchoge’s Breaking2

attempt in Monza in 2017, the world of footwear has been in a spin. Nike, the masters of marketing and creators of undoubtedly great footwear, launched a mainstream shoe on the back of the attempt, based on the prototype model that Kipchoge himself wore on the motor racing circuit.

The shoe – the Nike Vaporfly 4% – was so named after research suggested it effectively offers a 4% improvement in efficiency for a marathon runner. It was a great success and runners bought them in their droves.

The shoe was made up of a combination of a carbon fibre plate and revolutionary foam (see panel). But this wasn’t the first time carbon fibre had been used in a shoe. Paul Tergat’s marathon world record of 2:04:55 in Berlin in 2003 was set in the Fila Racer, a shoe with a carbon plate to provide a little extra spring.

The Nike shoe was then updated in early 2019 to the current model, the ZoomX Vaporfly Next%, which was given this name because it took things on a level, offering more of the ZoomX foam cushioning to provide even greater benefits.

By this time, though, other brands had begun to release their own models: HOKA One One releasing the Carbon X at an event in Sacramento resulting in a 50km world record from Jim Walmsley.

When Kipchoge eventually broke the two-hour barrier at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna last year, again the focus was firmly fixed on his shoe, which was the new and yet-to-be-released ‘Alphafly’.

This prototype model included a multi-layered carbon fibre plate system and even more of the ZoomX foam, measuring around 50mm thick.

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