Footwear technology is changing athletics, say BYU coaches | Opinion


There is another arms race in athletics and this one has nothing to do with pharmaceuticals. It is the arms race of the feet. High-tech shoes have had an increasingly big impact on the sport in recent years, sparking controversy along the way, and now they could be responsible for a big boost in performance on the track.

“The times for the NCAA this year are outrageous,” says BYU coach Ed Eyestone.

Every year for the past 10 years, an average of 32 varsity men have run under four minutes indoors, surpassing last year’s record of 38. This year there are 90.

The 16 fastest runners in each event qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships this weekend. The slowest qualifying time for the mile is 3:56.60 – a time that would have won all but four NCAA indoor championships since their debut in 1965.

Using a 4:36.0 as the threshold for women in the same race – which is seconds away from the women’s equivalent of a men’s sub-four mile – 24 have reached that threshold this year, doubling the total of last year. In the previous decade, the average was 10.

The same thing happens in the other distance and middle-distance races, but, notably, not in the sprints.

Here are some examples:

800 meters men

2021: 7 under 1:48

2022: 23 under 1:48

800 women

2021: 14 under 2:05

2022: 34 under 2:05

thousand men

2021: 38 under 4:00

2022: 90 under 4:00

thousand women

2021: 12 under 4:36

2022: 24 under 4:36

3,000 men

2021: 5 under 7:50

2022: 38 under 7:50

3,000 women

2021: 14 under 9:05

2022: 37 under 9:05

5,000 men

2021: 29 under 13:50

2022: 71 under 13:50

5,000 women

2021: 8 under 15:50

2022: 27 under 15:50

Some of the spike in performance could be attributable to the extra year of eligibility the NCAA gave athletes to make up for the 2020 season that was canceled by the pandemic. But Eyestone and Diljeet Taylor, head coach of the BYU women’s team, think shoe technology is the most important factor.

“It’s the shoes,” Taylor says, emphatically.

“No question,” Eyestone said. “It’s like aluminum bats in baseball. I’m old enough to remember when tennis players gave up wooden racquets. It’s the same thing. The new shoes destroyed what were once fast times.

“It’s the shoes. Absoutely. Without a doubt,” says Bob Wood.

Wood, a longtime agent for track and road runners, is the former president of long-distance running for USA Track and Field and was once listed as one of the most powerful men in the sport. It would be hard to find someone who knows the world of running better. When asked why the peak in performance is happening this season when the shoes have been around for a few years, he replied, “Not everyone had them last year. Before, it was mostly people from Nike. Now, other shoe companies are embracing the technology.

Former Deseret News Marathon director Bob Wood calls the shoe situation “out of this world stupid.”

Taylor and Eyestone also mentioned the increased availability of the shoe for peak performance this year. The shoes will appear in high school races this spring.

Bryce Dyer, who is considered an expert in sports technology, told NPR that the shoes are made of rubber polymers combined with carbon fiber plates that “work together to absorb and then return a percentage of the energy that the runner puts it”.

The bottom line is that they provide extra spring with every kick while absorbing the fatigue-inducing pounding that runners normally experience. World Athletics – the governing body for athletics – came under pressure to ban the shoes, but refused. Shoes are here to stay.

Eyestone could see the writing on the wall years ago. The “super shoes” started appearing in road races in 2016 and on the track in 2019. Since then, all world records from the 5,000 meters to the marathon have fallen and runners have achieved seven of the eight best men’s times of the marathon and nine of the Top 10 women’s times. The arrival of the shoes was particularly disheartening for Eyestone. One of his runners, Jared Ward, finished sixth in the Olympic marathon, but he was the first to cross the line not wearing the high-tech shoes.

In 2019, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge wore a prototype of the super shoes when he became the first man to run a marathon in less than two hours.

At the start of 2020, World Athletics decided that it would place limits on shoe design and that athletes would not be allowed to wear prototypes that had not been released to the public for at least four months. But it was too late to help non-Nike athletes at the Tokyo Olympics six months later. Obviously, they were at a disadvantage compared to the competition. Business Insider reported that athletes wearing Nike shoes won 21 out of 33 podium spots — about 64% — in individual events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.


Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya crosses the finish line in the 3000 meter race at the IAAF Qatar Super Grand Prix in Doha, Qatar, Friday May 11, 2007. In 2019, Kipchoge wore a prototype super shoe when he became the first man to run a marathon in less than two hours.

Kamran Jebreili, Associated Press

The super shoes could represent some mind-blowing races at the Olympics last summer. Kevin Young’s world record of 46.78 seconds stood for 29 years before Norway’s Karsten Warholm finally broke it in July last year by 0.08 of a second. This is how records are normally broken – incrementally, by a tenth of a second or less.

But at the Tokyo Olympics a few weeks later, Warholm clocked a New Generation time of 45.94 and two other competitors behind him also broke the world record. The same thing happened in the women’s 400 hurdles race. No woman had ever broken 52 seconds before 2021.

The world record set by Russian Yuliya Pechonkina of 52.34 had stood for 16 years until it was broken by American Dalilah Muhammad in 2019 and again in 2020, with times of 52.20 and 52 ,16. American Sydney McLaughlin ran 51.90 at the Olympic Trials and then an impressive 51.46 at the Olympics, with compatriot Muhammad second at 51.58 and Dutch Femke Bol third at 52.03.

Warholm slammed the shoes worn by runner-up Rai Benjamin — Nike’s controversial Air Zoom Victory shoes — comparing them to running with a trampoline under his feet. He also worried out loud that changing shoe technology would hurt athletes’ credibility – that the first thing fans will wonder after a fast run is whether it’s because of the shoes ( the same way people suspect drugs after quick runs). It should be noted that Warholm himself wore a pair of shoes containing the carbon fiber plate which had been produced in a collaboration between Puma and Mercedes Benz.

Ultimately, shoes could do to keep up with what steroids did in baseball and what polyurethane suits did in swimming. When athletics began to move from cinder tracks to synthetic surfaces, records dropped and there was a tectonic shift in the sport. There was no objective when the track arrived, but the emergence of the high-tech shoe strongly divided the aficionados of this sport; one side sees it as an injustice, the other as an evolution.

Swimming suffered a similar challenge with the advent of polyurethane swimsuits which covered almost the entire body and made swimmers more buoyant and streamlined; the sport banned them from competition in 2010 after records began to fall in rapid succession – some 130 world records in about a year and a half. Some have called the suits “doping on a hanger”.

Performance-enhancing drugs have undoubtedly revolutionized performance on the track, just like in other sports, and drug testing has been only moderately successful in stopping them. Florence Griffith Joyner set sensational and highly suspect world records in the 100 and 200 in 1988 – 10.49 and 21.34 in the 100 and 200 meter dashes – which no one came close to challenging – until the last year when Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah ran times of 10.54 and 21.53 while wearing carbon fiber spikes.

Advances in the shoe “have proven to allow a runner to be more efficient and that’s a big change, especially from 800 meters to 10,000 meters,” says Brian Metzler, author of “Kicksology: The Hype , Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes“. .”

“I have been told by some athletes that the new spikes can provide a 5-15 second boost over 5,000 meters, so that’s a real time difference.” Studies show that carbon fiber shoes offer about 4% more energy efficiency.

At least it will be difficult to compare runners of different generations. Asked about the situation in general, Wood said, “It’s completely stupid. Records are going to be broken by people who are not as good as the (former record holders). What would Jim Ryun do today? He ran a 3:51 mile in high school on a cinder track wearing Grandma’s shoes. Put it in today’s shoes on today’s tracks and it would have run 3:44.


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