Nike’s Vaporfly Shoes: An Unfair Advantage?  

On October 12, 2019, Eliud Kipchoge became the first man ever to break the two-hour marathon barrier. The following day, on October 13, 2019, Brigid Kosgei shattered the women’s marathon record by a whopping 81 seconds. Aside from the Kenyan blood and tons of sweat put into the intensive hours of running every day, these athletes have something else in common: it is the shoes.

By Giulio Orlandi

February 11, 2020

Both runners have sported iterations of Nike’s infamous Vaporfly, well known for the thick, highly cushioning sole covering an internal carbon fiber plate used for greater energy return. The Vaporfly’s stellar results have however attracted the attention of critics and organizations. The sneakers went under investigation in January 2020 by World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field, in consideration of a ban for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Although the Vaporflys may be mistaken as an immoral advantage on the track, they are merely proof that new regulations are required for what is and what should not be allowed in distance running.

In 2019, 31 out of the 36 top-three finishers from the year’s major marathons were runners wearing versions of the Vaporfly. Nike even claims that the shoes are designed to improve times by 4%. These numbers have led to ethical questioning on whether the sneakers act as an unfair advantage or even mechanical doping. Robert Johnson, who oversees the running site LetsRun.com and trained in 2000 for the Olympic trials, adds that “running is not supposed to be about who has the best technology, it’s supposed to be about who pushes the hardest, has the most talent and trains the hardest.” Not all athletes run for Nike, and certainly not every amateur runner can afford a sneaker with a hefty $250 USD price tag on top of it. 

As with doping, restrictions are required for what kind of shoe an athlete can wear. A single painkiller will not deprive an athlete of the right to run in a competition, but abusing anabolic steroids must not be disregarded. Shoes that act simply as shoes cannot be restricted from the athletes, but shoes that give an additional advantage, such as a spring effect that propels the runner forward, should not be allowed. The Vaporfly’s technology, however, is not this advanced. Yet.

Restrictions on the thickness of the sole, the weight of the shoes, or the material of the sole are a positive start for determining what should be allowed in a shoe, but then the question is on where the line should be drawn. Damiano Zanotto, the head of the wearable robotic systems lab at Stevens Institute of Technology, points out that “if you wanted to put everybody on the same starting line, you can require people to run with their bare feet, which doesn’t make any sense. There is not negative or bad technology. There is a need for regulation and clear regulation.” As for the availability of the shoes, the cost will only decrease as competitors catch up to Nike, which can only be possible if the Vaporfly is not banned from competition.

As technology continues to evolve, there must be some restrictions on the shoes a runner wears, yet Nike’s somewhat thick soles do not classify their Vaporfly as sci-fi technology. After their investigation, World Athletics has concluded a runner’s shoes may not have soles thicker than 40mm and can only have one carbon-fiber plate. Although only time will tell if these restrictions are reasonable, it is a step in the right direction to limit the impact of technology on human performance. However, as technology evolves, the lives of humans are set to become easier, and the world’s greatest athletes may as well move on with the rest of us.

Although poverty and homelessness continue to be substantial in New York City, recent studies by the New York Government (NYC gov) show that the rates have declined between 2014 and 2017 by almost 2%. 

According to NYC gov, the citywide poverty rate decreased from 20.6 % in 2014 to 19.0% in 2017. Additionally, the rate of those living below and near the poverty line also fell in those years to 43.1% from 45.1%.

Currently, around 20% of New York inhabitants live below the poverty line, which is defined by a yearly income of less than $24,300 for a family of four with two children. According to Bowery.org, in 2015, this made up for 1.7 million New Yorkers living in poverty.  Out of New York’s 8.4 million inhabitants, 1 in 125 live under the poverty line. 

The two neighborhoods that suffer most from major poverty are South Bronx and East Harlem, which may correlate with the crime rates and low test scores. According to AreaVibes, in South Bronx there are 7.35 crimes for every 100,000 people. Additionally, it is reported that the average high school grade is 58%, which is 30% lower than the US average. The average major test score in South Bronx is 40%. 

Contradicting the declining poverty rates, an opposing study recently showed that there will be rising homelessness and poverty due to rising health rates, especially for seniors. The rate of homelessness is expected to grow from 2,600 to 6,900 people within the next 10 years.  Additionally, the combined annual shelter and health care costs associated with this population are projected to triple from approximately $150 million in 2011 to $461 million in 2030. 

With the rise of poverty an organization called Bowery hopes to address poverty by mentoring and helping children thrive in school and life. This would lead to a child’s social and emotional development, which would later help them grow into healthy and economically self-sufficient adults. Other organizations such as New York Health (NYSHealth) have funded money in order to support the people who suffer from poverty and hopefully, this will help the ones in need and decrease poverty in the future. 

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