Breaking2: Vorsprung durch Technik for Nike

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"The real purpose of running isn't to win a race, it's to test the limits of the human heart."

So said Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman – and this was the purpose of their highly publicised attempt earlier this month to crack the sub-two hour marathon.

Everything was micromanaged. The formula one track was chosen because of its smooth surface and long curves; runners had rotating pacers to regulate their speed; hydration was delivered on motorbikes so they needn't slow for a second; the athletes' clothes used 'Aeroblade technology' to reduce drag; and of course, there were the shoes.

The Nike Vaporfly Elite contain a curved carbon-fiber blade in the sole which – according to Dr. Geng Luo, a Nike biomechanics expert – reduces energy loss as the runner bends at the toe.

Nike was indeed pushing boundaries. IAAF pacing rules mean that this attempt didn't count as a world record – despite producing the fastest time in which a human has ever run 26.2km – even so, it is likely that Nike's hi-tech shoes will come under scrutiny.

The case of the Vaporfly's carbon-fiber plate is fascinating, because it draws obvious parallels with athletes who use prosthetic limbs. For example, long-jumper Markus Rehm was refused entry to Rio 2016 after the IAAF ruled that he failed to prove that, as an amputee using a blade, he had no unfair advantage.

Human enhancement is not just for the sci-fi fanatic

According to one official, the IAAF believe that allowing athletes with blades to compete "affects the purity of the sport", yet human modification or enhancement is more commonplace than you might think. Pacemakers are used to control the rhythms of our hearts and organ replacements are available if our own bodies fail us. We all use computers to augment our cognitive functions, in fact some people believe (yes, I'm looking at you, Elon) that a human-computer symbiote is the way forward.

The concern about any form of human enhancement is that it will confer unfair advantages on those who use it, that it will increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots. But this assumes that we all begin on a level playing field when we obviously don't – some of us are disabled.

Currently, we do not have – or can't really decide if we have – the technology to allow disabled and able-bodied athletes to compete alongside one another. But we should, because that really would be a milestone in sporting history.

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