The old saying goes there are two sides to every argument.
Yet in the case of the controversy surrounding the innovative Nike ZoomX Vaporfly racing shoe, there might be three.
That’s because there are national-class runners in favor of the high-tech, geeked-up footwear while some are against it – and then there are those who reside somewhere in the middle.
The shoe is making headlines these days for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a threat by World Athletics (formerly IAAF) to pull it from international competition, just as Tokyo is gearing up for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
Track’s governing body is worried that the Vaporfly’s documented four-percent advantage over standard racing shoes gives the wearer too much of an edge.
It points to the world marathon records recently set by Eliud Kipchoge (1:59, the first man to break two hours) and Brigid Kosgei (2:14.04, the first woman to break 2:15). Both athletes wore the Nike shoe to the new standards.
The debate centers around the shoe’s construction, namely a carbon elevation plate inserted in the midsole which provides more energy to the runner.
A ruling could be coming any day now from World Athletics.
So we asked some of Bucks County’s elite runners how they feel about the matter.
Top-end performers like Steve Hallman and Pete Lederer have already used the shoe in recent races. Hallman ran a brilliant 2:22 at Berlin last October and Lederer has run a bunch of Boston Marathons in under three hours with and without the Nike prototype.
Hallman falls into the category of someone who believes a compromise can be reached, namely “regulation’’ to keep things from getting out of hand.
Lederer doesn’t think the shoe should be used in international competition, one reason being that allowing the shoe to be used would give an unfair advantage to Nike-sponsored runners over runners backed by other companies who couldn’t wear the Nike shoe.
Michael Gross, another accomplished marathoner and girls cross country coach at Council Rock South High School, believes the shoe is simply a product of technological evolution, just as we have progressed from cinder tracks to more modern synthetic surfaces.
And Terry Permar, who has set a record by running under three hours for the marathon in five different decades, points out that the shoe is available to anyone who wants to use it, so go right ahead.
Hallman has come within minutes of qualifying for the U.S. Men’s Olympic Trials, so he’s been around world-class competition.
He notes that swimming had to deal with a similar issue a while back when records in that sport were falling left and right because competitors were wearing suits made of polyurethane. Eventually, restrictions were put in place.
“Even golf has a limit of the size of the club head,’’ Hallman says. “To me, at some point, it can become more about the technology than human effort.’’
Hallman believes a concession or two can solve the issue.
“Put a limit on the stack height of the shoes and one carbon plate,’’ he says. “There are limits on the size of the spike in track, so what’s wrong with putting limits on road shoes?’’
Lederer is concerned about the integrity of the sport.
“Running has always been a sport where you could compare runners from different eras,’’ he says, “but this shoe is a game-changer. Race times over the years have dropped due to many factors, including better shoes, but the Vaporflys essentially propel you forward.
“That goes against the idea of the sport. The problem though is how do you put the genie back in the bottle?’’
Gross counters that assertion with three points of his own.
“First, the running shoe has been improving since the first waffle racer was developed,’’ he says. “Where do we draw the line?
“Second, other shoe companies are developing similar shoes. And third, the cost argument ($249 a pair) is silly, as there have been expensive shoes forever and the cost will drop as they scale up the manufacturing.’’
To the CR South coach’s way of thinking, it’s time to get with the times.
“How do we compare a time run on a cinder track with shoes made in the ‘50s,’’ he says, “to a time run on a new mondo track from today? We can’t. . .and that’s OK.’’
Permar, a Council Rock High School graduate who has maintained a high standard of running into his 60s, keeps an open mind on the subject.
“Personally, I have no problem with the idea that these shoes supposedly give an advantage,’’ he says. “I think cheating is not the right word in this instance. Are we going to be splitting hairs with design advantages with certain shoes?
“I have never worn them but I would certainly like to give them a go. I need all the help I can get!’’
Hallman may have put the whole thing in perspective when he said authorities should be spending a little more time addressing bigger issues, like doping.
“PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) are a huge issue right now in track and field,’’ Hallman says. “I would much rather see more of an effort curbing that problem and gaining trust back in the sport than worrying about a shoe.’’
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