February 1, 2020

The high-tech running shoes debate: what does it mean for Zimbabwe

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By Mugove Chigada

THE World Athletics must tighten regulations regarding high-tech running shoes to create an equal playing field at Tokyo 2020 between highly sponsored athletes and some from developing nations.

There are fears that the high-tech running shoes give an advantage to the athlete and in the process puts to shreds important records set in the past.

Zimbabwe will be part of the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, from July 24 to August 9.

And Zimbabwe Olympic Committee (ZOC) should also wait in anticipation for the Friday announcement on the stance to be taken by World Athletics on the debate.

The body is ‘the international governing body for the sport of athletics, covering track and field, cross country running, road running, racewalking, mountain running and ultrarunning’.

“Shoes must not be constructed so as to give athletes any unfair assistance or advantage – and any type of shoe used must be reasonably available to all in the spirit of the universality of athletics”. The rules state.

This is against the background that in Zimbabwe, athletes have had to rely on ZOC and National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe for support in training ahead of major events that could help them achieve qualifying time.

The limited resources for athletes in Zimbabwe and other African countries have already negatively affected athletes for the major events, including the Olympics.

With the tech-shoe debate, a new dimension comes in on how athletes based in developing countries, Zimbabwe included, could further widen the gap.

“While athletes can eventually be able to afford such shoes if they are to be approved for future Olympic games, the same cannot be said about the rising athlete who relies on setting good records using the limited resources to progress with their careers,” said a Zimbabwean official.

With an announcement expected today, according to the BBC, it is hoped that the body that represents athletes will consider how the decision impacts not only at high-level athletic competitions but how it distorts talent identification in developing and developed countries.     

The case of Eliud Kipchoge and his astonishing record on October 12, 2019, in Vienna, when he managed to beat the under 2-hour record wearing the ‘Vaporfly shoes’ raises eyebrows.

The Vaporfly range is estimated to cost around US$315 a pair.

And the claim by Nike that they estimate that “runners who wear their Vaporfly shoes are 4 percent more efficient” seems to have not helped matters.

That seems to have brought about recommendations by a group of experts who submitted findings to World Athletics for consideration. In the case that the body comes up with rules that create a level playing field, legal challenges from manufacturers have not be ruled out.

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