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World Athletics bans prototype Nike Vaporfly

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: The new Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint running shoe at the launch of the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint in London in London at The Institute of Contemporary Arts on April 17, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Patrik Lundin/Getty Images for Nike)

World Athletics has banned certain variants of Nike’s Vaporfly running shoes for elite competition and announced significant changes to its rules on shoe technology.

In a press release on Friday, WA said it has banned from use in elite competition prototype versions of the Vaporfly that have not yet been released for public sale, such as those worn by Eluid Kipchoge to break the world marathon record last October.

Models of the Vaporfly that have already been released for the public will continue to be allowed. From April 30, any shoe used for elite competition must have been available to the public for four months. The measure is designed to prevent athletes gaining a competitive edge by using prototypes from Nike and other brands in major races.

WA also announced that road shoes must have soles no thicker than 40mm and not contain more than one rigid, embedded plate.

The rules review by WA comes after Eluid Kipchoge and fellow Kenyan runner Brigid Kosgei ran a sub-two hour marathon and broke the women’s marathon world record, respectively, wearing prototype Nike shoes. The shoes contained three carbon plates inside thick, ultra-compressed foam soles, which Nike said helped improve ‘running economy’ by up to four per cent.

Nike released the Vaporfly in 2016, and various versions have quickly come to dominate the elite and ‘serious recreational’ side of road running. The distinctive pink and green footwear, which cost around $250 and have a lifespan of only around 200 miles (321km), is now widespread throughout the fields of every major race.

WA concluded from a study that the new technology “may provide a performance advantage and could raise concerns that it might threaten the integrity of the sport”.

However, WA said any records set under the previous rules will stand.

The governing body will now establish an expert working group for future research into shoe technology and to assess all new shoes that sportswear brands bring to market.

“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,” WA president Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

“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 Tokyo 2020, while addressing the concerns that have been raised about shoe technology.”

WA’s decision is based on a similar precedent set by swimming’s governing body Fina, which a decade ago banned Speedo’s record-breaking LZR speed suit.