February 10, 2020

High-tech running shoes debate rages on

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Mugove Chigada

FORMER Olympian Abel Chimukoko believes Zimbabwean athletes have to learn live with high-tech running shoes rather than mourn about how they give their users an edge.

Abel Chimukoko

Debate is on whether such shoes, especially the Nike Vaporfly range, believed to improve athletes’ performance by four percent, are creating an uneven field.

World Athletics, the body that represent athletes, in summary ruled that new shoes manufactured must be available on the market for all, four months before use at any competition.

Nike Vaporfly

However, Zimbabwean athletes are unlikely to afford the shoes but Chimukoko reckons the trick to learn to live with the way technology is impacting athletics.

 “Africa and other developed countries cannot afford to get the shoes. But if you look closely, African athletes are the biggest beneficiaries because most of them are sponsored. So no need to ban the shoe,” Chimukoko told ZTN Sport.

At his peak, Chimukoko represented Zimbabwe at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

He finished 48th in 2:22:09 in what was a very tough marathon race.

The 47-year-old also represented the country well at the All-Africa Games, Commonwealth Games and several competitions, making him one of the greatest long distance runners in the country.

Interestingly, he admits that during their time, they did not have the privilege to have what their European and American counterparts had.

“In Zimbabwe we had no access to our own training stadiums. No gymnasium. We depended on natural equipment for training. In terms of shoes we had no choice but to use readily available shoes,” Chimukoko says.

The situation for upcoming athletes in Zimbabwe and most of Africa remains the same.

Most of the future stars will know of the high-tech shoes when they eventually get scholarships outside Africa, except for a privileged few.

While manufacturers will claim mass versions of their products to be compliant, reality is they remain highly inaccessible for upcoming athletes in the developing world.

And if the efficiency claim is anything to go by, only the very best from Africa will eventually go against the grain and show case their talent at the highest level.

Nike have not wasted time to feed the market with a Nike Zoom Vaporfly.

In compliance to the guidelines by World Athletics in protecting the integrity of the sport, they said this is a mass market version of the their Vaporfly.

And chances are most of their prototypes will dominate Tokyo 2020 set to start from 24 July to August 9.

“We are pleased the Nike Zoom Vaporfly series and Nike Zoom Alphafly Next% remain legal,” Nike was quoted as saying.

“We will continue our dialogue with World Athletics and the industry on new standards.”

That the five fastest marathons of all time have been achieved in the last 16 months by athletes wearing such high-tech running shoes, is further stirring debate.

 “We are living in a new world of technology. The shoe is good but it’s only affordable to a selected few. At the same time the shoe alone cannot perform wonders, it needs someone who has prepared well. I like the shoe,” says Chimukoko.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe admitted they had to strike “the right balance”.

“It is not our job to regulate the entire sports shoe market but it is our duty to preserve the integrity of elite competition by ensuring that the shoes worn by elite athletes in competition do not offer any unfair assistance or advantage…,” Coe was quoted as saying recently.

“I believe these new rules strike the right balance by offering certainty to athletes and manufacturers as they prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, while addressing the concerns that have been raised about shoe technology. If further evidence becomes available that indicates we need to tighten up these rules, we reserve the right to do that to protect our sport.”

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