Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Controversy over running shoes: World Athletics amends its rules

World Athletics (formerly International Association of Athletics Federations – IAAF) has amended its rules governing competition shoes.

The move is “ to provide greater clarity to athletes and shoe manufacturers around the world and to protect the integrity of the sport,’’ a press release dated January 31, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

According to it, “ from 30 April 2020, any shoe must have been available for purchase by any athlete on the open retail market (online or in store) for a period of four months before it can be used in competition. If a shoe is not openly available to all then it will be deemed a prototype and use of it in competition will not be permitted. Subject to compliance with the rules, any shoe that is available to all, but is customised for aesthetic reasons, or for medical reasons to suit the characteristics of a particular athlete’s foot, will be allowed. Where World Athletics has reason to believe that a type of shoe or specific technology may not be compliant with the rules or the spirit of the rules, it may submit the shoe or technology for study and may prohibit the use of the shoe or technology while it is under examination. Further, with immediate effect there will be an indefinite moratorium on any shoe (whether with or without spikes) that does not meet the following requirements:

  • The sole must be no thicker than 40mm.
  • The shoe must not contain more than one rigid embedded plate or blade (of any material) that runs either the full length or only part of the length of the shoe. The plate may be in more than one part but those parts must be located sequentially in one plane (not stacked or in parallel) and must not overlap.
  • For a shoe with spikes, an additional plate (to the plate mentioned above) or other mechanism is permitted, but only for the purpose of attaching the spikes to the sole, and the sole must be no thicker than 30mm.

The competition referee will have the power to request that an athlete immediately provide their shoes for inspection at the conclusion of a race if the referee has a reasonable suspicion that the shoes worn by an athlete do not comply with the rules.’’

The media statement said that the rule amendments the World Athletics Council approved this week were recommended by its Assistance Review Group, an internal working group containing technical, scientific and legal experts as well as athlete representatives. “ The Assistance Review Group has concluded that there is independent research that indicates that the new technology incorporated in the soles of road and spiked shoes may provide a performance advantage and there is sufficient evidence to raise concerns that the integrity of the sport might be threatened by the recent developments in shoe technology. It has therefore recommended that further research be undertaken to establish the true impact of this technology and that a new working group, comprising biomechanics specialists and other qualified experts, be formed to oversee this research, and to assess any new shoes that enter the market, where required. Shoe manufacturers will be invited to be part of this assessment process,’’ the press release said.

Friday’s announcement by World Athletics follows months of controversy about Nike’s Vapourfly range of shoes, which many users had said improved their timing. Reporting on World Athletics’ decision, BBC noted that while the Vaporfly has been spared, that may not be the case with Alphafly, the prototype shoe worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a marathon in under two hours in Vienna last year.

The World Athletics press release quoted its president Sebastian Coe as saying, “ 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. As we enter the Olympic year, we don’t believe we can rule out shoes that have been generally available for a considerable period of time, but we can draw a line by prohibiting the use of shoes that go further than what is currently on the market while we investigate further. 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.”

World Athletics will now establish an expert working group to guide future research into shoe technology (and consider any regulatory implications that that research might have), and to assess new shoes that emerge on the market. This group will report to the Competitions Commission, and ultimately to the Council. World Athletics remains open to continued dialogue with shoe manufacturers and other interested stakeholders regarding the amended rules and their impact as well as the broader question of how to balance shoe technology and innovation with World Athletics’ legitimate interest in preserving integrity in its sport, the press release said.

2020 World Athletics Indoor Championships postponed

The 2020 World Athletics Indoor Championships, due to be held in Nanjing over March 13-15, has been postponed to March 2021.

This follows the ongoing disease outbreak related to the new Coronavirus in China and since found to have surfaced in some other countries too.

“ It is with regret that we have agreed with the organisers of the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing (13-15 March 2020) to postpone the event to March 2021. We know that China is doing all it can to contain the new Coronavirus and we support them in all their efforts but it is necessary to provide our athletes, member federations and partners with a clear way forward in what is a complex and fast-moving set of circumstances.

“ The advice from our medical team, who are in contact with the World Health Organisation, is that the spread of the Coronavirus both within China and outside the country is still at a concerning level and no one should be going ahead with any major gathering that can be postponed.

“ We have considered the possibility of relocating the event to another country and would like to thank the cities that have volunteered to host the championships. However, given concerns still exist regarding the spread of the virus outside China, we have decided not to go with this option, as it may lead to further postponement at a later date.

“ The indoor season for athletics falls within a narrow calendar window (up to the end of March) and we believe we will be able to find a suitable date in 2021 to host this event. We would like Nanjing to be the host given the extensive planning and preparation they have put into this event,’’ a press release from World Athletics (formerly IAAF), dated January 29, 2020, said.

Kipruto sets new world record in 10K

Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto has set a new world record in the 10 kilometer-road race. On January 12, at Valencia Ibercaja, he clocked 26 minutes, 24 seconds to win the World Athletics Gold Label road race, a report on the website of World Athletics (formerly IAAF) said.

The 20 year-old took 14 seconds off the yet-to-be-ratified mark set just six weeks earlier by Joshua Cheptegei in the same city, on a different course.

“ Only the legendary Ethiopian duo Kenenisa Bekele (26:17.53) and Haile Gebrselassie (26:22.75) have recorded faster times on the track, while Paul Tergat holds the Kenyan 10,000m record at 26:27:85,’’ the report said.

Sheila Chepkirui, also of Kenya, won the women’s race in 29:46.

Bouldering facility coming up in Nerul, Navi Mumbai

Work in progress at the climbing facility coming up in Nerul, Navi Mumbai (Photo: Prashant Venugopal)

In tune with the growth of sport climbing in the Mumbai region, Nerul in Navi Mumbai is set to get its first artificial climbing wall accessible to the public. At a park, roughly five minutes-walk from the Nerul railway station, the municipal authorities have installed infrastructure capable of hosting an indoor climbing facility. A large protected shed has been created with space adequate for at least three walls. At the time of writing, two walls had been installed and painting work was underway on the walls; the climbing holds were yet to be fixed. The main wall is an imported climbing wall fabricated by the French company, Enterprise. It was shipped into the country for use in the 2016 IFSC World Cup in bouldering that was held in Vashi, Navi Mumbai. Following that edition of the event, at the 2017 IFSC World Cup held in Vashi, it was used as a warm-up wall.

Both these world cups organized by Girivihar, were sponsored in the main by Tata Trusts. There was an understanding then that the club would find means to give back to society; in the world of climbing that typically means making the sport accessible to the public. The Nerul facility helps address that, a recent Girivihar circular to its members, said. The Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) “ has given tremendous support and has built a structure for the wall in Nerul NMMC park. We continue to work with NMMC for setting up the wall in the premises and hopefully make it operational in the next two months,’’ the circular dispatched in January 2020, said. In Mumbai, the club has been involved in installing bouldering walls at Poddar College in Matunga, IIT Mumbai in Powai and YMCA in Colaba. When officially commissioned, the Nerul facility will likely be the biggest one so far, supported by Girivihar, those in the know said.

Ethiopian sweep at Dubai Marathon

Debutants Olika Adugna of Ethiopia and Eric Kiptanui of Kenya outwitted seasoned marathoners to finish first and second in the men’s race at the 2020 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, held on January 24.  They won in 2:06:15 and 2:06:17 respectively. The top ten finishers among men were separated by narrow margins. In the women’s race, Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia won clocking 2:19:38, a report on the website of World Athletics (formerly IAAF) said.

Save Kiptanui’s place on the podium for men and Risper Biyaki of Mexico who placed tenth among women, it was an Ethiopian sweep right through to tenth place in both gender categories. The top ten positions as available in the report were: Men – 1. Olika Adugna, ETH 2:06:15 / 2. Eric Kiptanui, KEN 2:06:17 / 3. Tsedat Abeje, ETH 2:06:18 / 4. Lencho Tesfaye, ETH 2:06:18 / 5. Yitayal Atnafu, ETH 2:06:21 / 6. Yihunilign Adane, ETH 2:06:22 / 7. Aychew Bantie, ETH 2:06:23 / 8. Seifu Tura, ETH 2:06:26 / 9. Chalu Deso, ETH 2:06:29 / 10. Zewudu Hailu, ETH 2:06:31 Women – 1. Worknesh Degefa, ETH 2:19:38 / 2. Guteni Shone, ETH 2:20:11 / 3. Bedatu Hirpa, ETH 2:21:55 / 4. Tigist Abayechew, ETH 2:22:45 / 5. Dera Dida, ETH 2:22:52 / 6. Hawi Feysa, ETH 2:23:36 / 7. Bezunesh Deba, ETH 2:26:59 / 8. Obst Abdeta, ETH 2:29:30 / 9. Buze Diriba, ETH 2:30:18 / 10. Risper Biyaki, MEX 2:30:59.

Avinash Sable, Srinu Bugatha, Rashpal Singh, Sudha Singh, Jyoti Gawate lead Indian competition at 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon.

Over 55,000 people expected to participate.

Srinu Bugatha winner of the 2019 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and Tata Steel Kolkata 25k, and Rashpal Singh, silver medalist at the 2019 South Asian Games, are among Indian elite runners scheduled to participate in the 2020 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon, due January 19, 2020. Also in the fray is Rahul Pal, winner of the 2019 Pune International Marathon.

According to a statement available on the race organizer’s website, Indian elite runners in the women’s marathon include defending champion Sudha Singh and Jyoti Gawate, bronze medalist at the 2019 South Asian Games.

In the men’s half marathon race, Avinash Sable, national record holder in 3000 meter steeplechase (he turned in a gritty performance at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha) and Shankar Man Thapa will be among contenders. Swati Gadhave and Monica Athare will spearhead the challenge in the half marathon for women.

Nitendra Singh Rawat, course record holder among Indian runners and a popular face at TMM, won’t be running this year. In a Facebook post on January 13, he informed that after winning TMM in 2019 and giving his best at the London Marathon, “ it is very disheartening to say that I will not be able to participate in the upcoming TMM 2020 and Tokyo Olympics because of my fractured knee. I am advised to give complete rest to my knee.’’

A record number of 55,322 people are expected to participate in 2020 TMM. The 17th edition of this World Athletics Gold Label Road Race, will have 9660 runners running the full marathon, 15,260 runners in the half marathon, 8032 runners in the 10 kilometer-race, 19,707 participants  in the Dream Run, 1022 runners in the Senior Citizen Run and 1596 participants in the Champion with Disability, the earlier mentioned statement said.

According to it, women’s participation has increased to 35 per cent. Outstation participation has grown by 22 per cent and full marathon participation by 15 per cent.

Shoe war heats up

The controversy over Nike’s Vaporfly shoes worn by Eliud Kipchoge during his record breaking sub-two hour marathon in Vienna last year, has gathered momentum with recent media reports indicating that World Athletics may soon rule on their legality and share prices of shoe manufacturers responding accordingly.

On January 16, leading wire service Bloomberg informed that shares of Japanese manufacturer Asics Corp, a rival to Nike, “ surged as much as eight per cent before paring gains to 4.7 per cent as of 11:41 AM that day in Tokyo, after the Times of London and others reported that World Athletics was mulling a ban for Nike’s Vaporfly shoes in professional competition. Mizuno Corp, another Japanese maker of running equipment, rose as much as 1.6 per cent.’’

Nike’s Vaporfly Next % model was the shoe of choice for Kipchoge in Vienna and Brigid Kosgei, when she broke the women’s world record in the marathon, last year in Chicago. According to the Bloomberg report, the shoes gained popularity in Japan too resulting in a fall in share price for Asics at the start of 2020.

However, thick soles, the use of carbon fiber-plates and runners who used it confirming that the shoes contributed to improving their performance rendered the Nike model controversial. There have been calls since to restore a level playing field.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)


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