If you know Nike, you’ll know that they love a good controversy. After all, insanely expensive running shoes aren’t going to sell themselves, and even if you have to win the jackpot playing online casino games to buy their products, they know that their brand is highly coveted. And that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
But now there’s another new controversy, and this one has a few interesting implications.
The Nike Vaporfly, and its various other iterations, are the latest running shoe from the global mega-corporation. There is no question that the footwear is well made, comfortable, and very reliable. But, if you buy into the near frenzied levels of hype and controversy, the shoes are so good, so incredible in every regard, that they constitute as “mechanical doping.” In fact, word was that they might be banned from the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, so outrageously superior are they in every regard.
The shoes were not banned, in case you were wondering. They were officially given the seal of approval, allowing them into the Olympics, and dispelling any notion that the footwear could offer a clear, undeniable, unfair advantage. Though, you can’t fault Nike for knowing how to create a controversy-hype train.
Either way, the incident did raise a few interesting questions. Namely, what exactly would it take to get gear banned from sporting events?
Hype Versus Marketing
Nike was quick to point out that a number of their other shoes have been banned from sporting events. Though the company was also careful to not mention why these shoes were banned. It turns out that, in every case so far of a shoe being banned, it was due to the design being distracting, breaking rules in regards of colour, or otherwise not meeting basic standards.
No shoe has ever been banned to date because it offered runners an unfair advantage. It turns out that there are well defined international rules on how a shoe may be designed for tournaments, which levels the playing field and is intended to eliminate any sneakiness. But more on this a bit later.
Here are the shoes that have been banned so far, and why they were banned.
The Nike Air Jordan 1s were banned in 1984, due to not following uniform colour rules. Apparently, Michael Jordan wore them anyway, and was fined $5,000 each time he did. It was almost like he was being paid to wear them far more than a measly $5,000, making it a lucrative prospect. Nike ran an ad campaign that played up the ban, demonstrating that they knew the power of a good controversy even back in the 80s. The Nike Air Jordan 1s are still available to purchase, in case you wanted in on the forbidden fruit.
The Jordan Melo M10, also made by Nike, shockingly, were banned from the 2013/2014 NBA season due to multiple complaints. The design incorporated a chrome plate on the back, which reflected light like a mirror. Obviously, it distracted players, resulting in complaints, and ending in the ban. Yes, you can also still get your hands on these.
Next we have the Nike Zoom Vapour 9 Tour Grass. Roger Federer wore them at Wimbledon in 2013, only to be stunned when he learned that the specifically orange soles went against the dress code of the tournament; all white. How absent minded of the champion to overlook such a detail. If you also like violating Wimbledon dress standards, these shoes are still available.
The Blade Runner Advantage
South African runner Oscar Pistorius, otherwise known as the Blade Runner, faced a veritable mountain of legal battles in order to be allowed into able-bodied Olympic events. He came under repeated fire from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) due to accusations that his artificial legs, or blades, gave him an unfair advantage. Suggestions were that he expended as much as 25% less energy than able bodied runners.
Regardless, after appeals and threats of legal action, Pistorius was allowed to run in the 2012 Summer Olympics. This is how broad the boundaries of what legal is in the Olympics.
More Research Needed
After the Nike Vaporfly was declared legal, it was also made clear that no new technology would be allowed into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. According to a spokesman for the event, there was simply not enough research being done on how, realistically, something like a running shoe could impact the performance of an adult athlete.
As it stands, there are indeed standard set for the designs allowed in Olympic footwear. But there are now louder calls than ever for more research to be done in this department, and for clarification to be given on just how much advantage running shoes might offer.
As Nike were already keen to declare, their Vaporfly grants a 4% improvement in stamina. But taking the word of a company that once designed basketball shoes with reflective chrome plates probably isn’t the best idea.