Leave it to the Tokyo Olympic Games to say good-bye with one last debate.
We’ve already been through enough hand-wringing over whether to even stage the controversial Olympiad due to the pandemic but now we’re duty-bound to review track and field’s latest whiz-bang technology.
The debate centers both on Tokyo’s state-of-the-art track surface along with the shoes athletes wore to compete.
As T&F followers know, a bunch of records fell in Japan, including New Jersey native Sidney McLaughlin’s new world standard in the 400-meter hurdles.
The question is: If Tokyo’s new Mondo surface, which provides a “trampoline’’ effect, gives runners a big advantage, should those times be the true numbers entered into the record books?
Of course, all tracks around the world are different. Some are springy, others aren’t. The feeling seems to be, if the distances are standard, who cares if the Mondo surface contains tiny air bubbles which enhance performance?
Let’s put it this way: If there were synthetic tracks in the early 1950s, would it have taken until 1954 for Roger Bannister to become the first runner to break the four-minute mile?
The same logic applies to those new $300 track spikes, the ones equipped with a carbon plate to provide up to a two-percent improvement in performance.
Two percent might not seem like much but how many races did we see decided by hundredths of a second?
Pro athletes, i.e., Olympic participants are griping that athletes who run for companies such as Nike (probably the leader in shoe technology) have a bit of an unfair advantage. Those who aren’t working for Nike are waiting for their companies to catch up. In the meantime, it’s sort of every man for himself.
According to an article in Runner’s World Magazine, Andrea Vallauri, an international relations manager for the track’s designer, Mondo, says Tokyo’s track includes rubber granules that create small pockets of air, generating one to two percent improvements in runners’ performances.
Vallauri told The Daily Mail of London: “What you are seeing is evolution. Clearly every time there is an Olympic Games we try to improve the formulation of the material, and Tokyo has been no different.”
Explaining the science behind the new track, he said: “We have tried to improve [it] by adding an extra compound. The track is very thin – 14 millimeters. But we have added these rubber granules. How best to describe it: In the lower layer of the track is this hexagonal design that creates these small pockets of air.
“They not only provide shock absorption but give some energy return; at the same time a trampoline effect. We have improved this combination and this is why we are seeing the track has improved performance.”
In addition to McLaughlin, Norway’s Karsten Warholm broke his own world record in the 400 hurdles by 0.76 seconds and Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah set a new Olympic record for the women’s 100 meters, while surprise men’s 100-meter winner Lamont Marcell Jacobs is now the world’s fastest athlete currently running.
McLaughlin likes the new track surface and why not? She broke her own world record seemingly with ease.
She told the New York Times: “You can feel the bounce. Some tracks just absorb your bounce and your motion; this one regenerates it and gives it back to you.’’
Which brings us to the latest in shoe modifications. If you’re willing to spend three big ones on a Nike spike shoe, chances are you will run faster.
It’s all about energy conservation and the carbon plate in the shoe provides, in a way, the same bounce-back effect as Tokyo’s track.
Warholm, for one, has criticized these shoes, saying they “undermine’’ credibility in the sport.
Remember when baseball players used to cork their bats? Same principle.
Former 800-meter great Sebastian Coe, who now serves as president of World Athletics, expressed confidence that eventually things will even out and there will be a “level playing field’’ for all athletes.
But in the meantime, the rush to establish new world records at high-profile events (and drive up TV ratings) most likely will continue.
Ivyland 5K, Ivyland. Contact www.ivyland5k.org