Countries are boasting about the number of medals they have won at the Olympics. The USA came out on top in Tokyo. Track and field however, revealed a new winner. It was not a country but a brand who stood on the podium.
Nike shoes were worn by 21 of 33 podium places in Tokyo's individual track events. This is 64%.
This is evidence that the "super shoes" of the company may be even better. The shoes are made from carbon fiber and stiff plastic, with a soft foam cushion that returns energy to runners with every step.
Nike's super shoe design was unveiled at Rio 2016 Olympics. Athletes wearing Nike Vaporflys won the marathon and every long-distance road race. The Vaporfly's blend of carbon fiber and foam gives athletes a 4% increase in energy efficiency. This allows them to cut down on their marathon times by a few minutes.
In preparation for Tokyo, Nike introduced "super spikes", a new shoe for the track in 2019, which capitalizes on Vaporflys' success.
This forced Brooks, New Balance and Adidas to quickly develop their own super spikes using the same combination of foam and stiff plates.
Insider was told by Geoff Burns, a University of Michigan researcher in sport performance. They're simplified versions of the Vaporfly, but they use the same basic recipe.
What are super spikes?
The final of the 100m men's sprint at the Tokyo Olympics will be held August 1, 2021. Only two of the competitors are wearing Nike. Berengui/DeFodi Images/Getty
Spikes were originally designed to protect runners' feet and provide traction. Because each 100g of foam resulted in a 1% decrease in energy efficiency, there was very little foam. The extra weight of the cushion was not worth it, especially for short distances.
New foams were created, such as Nike's ZoomX which uses polyether blockamide or Pebax. Pebax foam has a remarkable lightness and resilience. ZoomX foam bounces back to its original form after being squished. This gives it 85% of the energy the runner used in compressing the foam.
Nike's Air Zoom Maxfly shoe. Nike
This foam can be combined with stiff plates that allow sprinters to run on their toes and help them speed up, resulting in faster times. Nike won three of the 11 individual track events for men in Tokyo. Same for the women's side. Three Nike runners set Olympic records.
These results were not surprising. Outside Online reported that runners who used the shoe's first prototypes of super-spike have set new records in the 1,500, 5,000, and 10,000 meter races.
While Nike shoes are now available in similar designs from other brands, some athletes still worry that they give an unfair advantage.
"We are just smarter about how to engineer and assemble them."
Rai Benjamin and Karsten Warholm will compete in the Tokyo 400-meter hurdles final on August 3, 2021. Roger Sedres/Gallo Images
Karsten Warholm, the Norwegian sprinter, won the 400-meter hurdle men's event in Tokyo last Thursday. He criticized Rai Benjamin, who came second because he was wearing Nike Air Zoom Maxfly super spikes. Nike calls the shoe a Zoom Air unit, which is a springy, flexible cushion under the forefoot that aids runners in conserving energy per footfall.
Warholm, sponsored by Puma called the technology "bulls ---,"" comparing the soles of the shoes to trampolines and claiming that the shoes devalue the sport's credibility.
Laura Healey, a researcher at Puma's footwear innovations department, said that Warholm's Puma Super Spike has a carbon fiber plate similar to Nike. She previously stated to Insider that Nike's Air Unit has "a higher energy return" than foams and that Nike has patent this technology.
The underside of the Nike Air Zoom Maxfly shoe. Nike
Nike likes to remind people that running shoes have had the same components for decades: carbon fiber, foam and air.
The company stated that they are just more skilled in how to engineer and assemble them.
Burns suggested that Nike's super-strikes might give an energy advantage of between 1.5% and 2%. According to World Athletics guidelines, no shoe worn at Tokyo Games was in violation of any rules.
Nike's advantage in sprints may not be as important
Experts believe super-spike technology differences are less important in short races because energetic efficiency is less important when the race is finished in less than a minute.
Burns stated that "sprinting is constrained only by absolute power output."
Sydney McLaughlin from the USA competes in the Final of the Women's 400m Hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics, August 4, 20, 2021. Li Ming/Xinhua via Getty Images
In Tokyo, this was confirmed. Puma and Adidas topped the podium in the 110-meter hurdle race for men. Adidas was worn by the women's and men's 400-meter winners, while Pumas were worn by the men's 200 meter winners. New Balance was worn by Sydney McLaughlin, the US sprinter who broke the world record for the 400-meter hurdle.
Burns, however, stated that "it's absolutely tremendously beneficial to be involved in those super spikes for longer distance events."
In fact, Nike was the winner of five of six podium spots in the 800-meter and 1,500 meters races for both men and women.
Vaporfly continues to be the dominant technology
The final of the women's marathon in Sapporo (Japan) during the Tokyo Olympics on August 7, 2021. Lintao Zhang/Getty
The white and pink Nike Vaporflys were easily identifiable due to their prominent presence at the Olympic marathon. They were worn by four of the six spots on the podium for women and men.
Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya, a marathoner, won gold in the new Vaporfly Next% 2. Brigid Kosgei from Nike, who broke the Chicago women's marathon record in 2019, finished second.
Eliud Kipchoge (a Nike-sponsored athlete from Team Kenya) wins the men's marathon at the Tokyo Olympics on August 8, 2021. Lintao Zhang/Getty
Nike says that runners' accomplishments are not about the shoes.
The company stated that while we have repeatedly proven in our labs that Nike spikes and racing shoes provide measurable benefits, ultimately it is the athletes who validate our work on the track and on roads.
Burns said that this is true. He previously spoke to Insider about Burns' belief that the shoe allows runners to run the race faster with the same effort and ability.