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Nike unveils tech-enhanced Olympic footwear following Vaporfly flap

Thomas Barrabi

Nike unveiled tech-enhanced footwear offerings for athletes in several Olympic sports Wednesday, days after the apparel giant’s controversial Vaporfly long-distance running shoe was deemed legal for the upcoming games in Tokyo, Japan.

The new offerings built on Nike’s work to develop a top-performing running shoe through the use of carbon plate technology and ultra-light midsole foam designed to lower the energy requirement for an athlete’s movement. Aside from upgrades to the technology utilized for long-distance runners and track athletes, Nike applied similar technology to increase performance for basketball and soccer players.

The Oregon-based company developed the Nike Air Zoom BB NXT for basketball, the Nike Air Zoom Mercurial for soccer and the Nike Air Zoom Viperfly for track athletes. In addition, Nike is releasing the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% for distance runners.

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Eliud Kipchope wore a prototype version of the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% in Vienna last October when he became the first person in history to run a marathon in less than two hours. The feat prompted international athletics officials to investigate Nike’s Vaporfly and Alphafly shoes to assess whether their technology provided an unfair mechanical advantage in competition.

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Ultimately, the shoes avoided a ban. In an update to its rules, World Athletics determined that shoes must be readily available to all athletes for at least four months before they can be cleared for use in competition, effective April 30.

The governing body also determined that future versions of tech-enhanced sneakers must have a midsole no thicker than 40 millimeters and can feature no more than one rigid plate, carbon or otherwise.

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“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,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

Nike’s Vaporfly and Alphafly shoe lines adhere to World Athletics’ updated guidelines. The mass-market version of the Alphafly features additional “ZoomX” patented foam compared to previous models as well as two “Air Zoom” pods for increased cushioning and responsiveness.

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