Tokyo Olympics: the track and the magic shoes

At the dawn of the last World Athletics Championships in Doha in 2019, the specialists were clear: the era of cascading records was over, the homus sportivus had reached its limits. “In sport as in other areas such as lengthening the life span, we will not go much further”, said to The cross Professor Jean-François Toussaint, world authority in the field of sports physiology.

→ READ. When the athletic body reaches its limits

Other specialists had uttered the same oracle: the marathon in less than 2 hours was not for tomorrow and Usain Bolt’s 9.58 over 100m was not about to be beaten. As for the old records for some 40 years old, set by athletes from Eastern Europe under suspicious conditions, they had a bright future ahead of them.

An estimated gain of 4% in endurance

Two years later, all these certainties are shaken up by a technological innovation that sends the old times waltzing: a new generation of shoes, initiated by the Nike brand and imitated at full speed by its competitors, which completely modifies the rebound of the foot after l ‘support. It is an assembly of foam and a carbon plate in the sole, which allows you to boost harder after each stride.

The 2 hour mark fell in the marathon (1) followed by records broken in the 10,000m and 5,000m. Over long distances, the benefit has been estimated at around 4%. Enough to knock off the marks. But the big news this season is that the magic starts to work on shorter lengths, starting with the 800m.

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“It’s really a weapon, explains the specialist of the French event Rénelle Lamote. I don’t know how much, but it helps, especially in the last 100m when the stride subsides ” with fatigue. “The shoe returns better and helps me to move forward”, she remarks.

The sensation in Tokyo came in an even shorter distance, the 400m hurdles, where the three medalists all ran faster than the old world record. The winner, the Norwegian Karsten Warholm did not hide his surprise when he learned that he had become the first man under 46 seconds, even if he chose to wear shoes equipped with carbon without the foam injected into that of his dolphins.

Even the 200 m experienced an unprecedented improvement, under the magical soles of Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah, who approached the sulphurous record of American Florence Griffith-Joyner of 1988 (21 s 34), one of the most successful performances. most dubious in history. The 100m record, owned for twelve years in 9.58 by the incomparable Usain Bolt, no longer seems inaccessible. The king himself indicated it in the columns of the Guardian : “With these shoes I would have gone under 9.50” said the Jamaican.

Height and length records in the viewfinder

Until Tokyo, the benefits of technology were confined to racing disciplines. But these Olympics have also enabled an evolution in the even more complex field of jumps, which shoemakers are beginning to study closely. Venezuelan Olympic triple jump champion Yulimar Rojas seemed to be flying step by step, as if she was climbing on springs, before breaking the world record.

In fact, the Tokyo track is equipped with a revolutionary surface designed by Mondo, an Italian company which is closely interested in swing areas in length and height. In these two specialties, the records date back 30 years – in 1991 for the American Mike Powell (8.95 m) and in 1993 for the Cuban Javier Sotomayor (2.45 m).


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