As VaporFlys narrowly escape Olympic ban, shoe manufacturers gear up for carbon plate arms race

Feb 3, 2020

NO, VaporFlys — or at least, the most readily available variants of the Nike running shoe — will not be banned in this year’s Olympics.

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So spoke the worldwide federation for track and field, World Athletics, in a new ruling issued just last weekend. The effectivity of the VaporFlys comes from two technological innovations: a thick midsole foam and the carbon fiber plate embedded inside. To even out the playing field for runners in sanctioned events, World Athletics has decreed that all soles should not exceed 40mm in height, and that shoes should not contain more than one "rigid embedded plate or blade".

Spiked running shoes could have an extra plate (as a base to set the spikes in), but the sole must not exceed 30mm in height.

In addition, the shoe must be available in the open market for at least four months.

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The latest retail version of the controversial shoe, the Nike VaporFly Next%, just barely made the cut. Its sole stands at 40mm.

On the other hand, Eliud Kipchoge’s prototype AlphaFlys will be banned, as they certainly won’t make it into the general market in time for the four-month cut-off.

The Kenyan runner wore them during his record-breaking sub-two hour marathon in Austria, held on October last year. The marathon was unofficial, but it became a banner event for the VaporFly’s run-enhancing power.

With the sport’s governing body finally making their stand clear, manufacturers are now free to continue the carbon fiber arms race that’s taking over the highest, most expensive realms of the running shoe world.

The VaporFlys weren’t the first shoe with a carbon fiber plate. (That honor belongs to adidas’ AdiStar, released in the early 2000s.) But today, it’s in these thin metal layers where manufacturers are zeroing in all their efforts.

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On the same day World Athletics announced its ruling, Brooks revealed the Hyperion Elite — its first pair with the carbon-plate tech.

Saucony will launch the Endorphin Pro this year, with an S-shaped carbon plate that will run across the entire length of the shoe.

Asics is widely expected to roll out its own carbon fiber-plated pair very soon. It tested a prototype with triathlete Jan Frodeno in the Ironman World Championship in Kona last October. He logged in a new course record aboard the shoes, with a clean 7:51:13. And while the new Asics MetaRide and GlideRide shoes don’t have actual plates, the manufacturer hopes their stiff, curved soles will provide the same benefit.

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And then there are the shoes already in the market: the Nike VaporFly Next% (of course), the New Balance FuelCell 5280, and the Hoka One One Carbon X.

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