Last May when Eluid Kipchoge attempted to break the 2 hour barrier for the marathon as part of Nike's Breaking2 project he wore a pair of Nike Vapourfly Elite shoes. Which had been especially developed to enhance performance and aid in the attempt to go sub 2 hours.
The Vapourfly Elites which are now available on general sale, Nike claims improve running economy on average by 4%. A claim that appears to have been ratified by a recent survey carried out by the New York Times. Having used data from Strava they analysed 495,000 marathon and half marathon times since 2014 and concluded that runners that wore Vaporflys on average ran up to 3 - 4% quicker than similar runners wearing other shoes.
So, playing devils advocate, does wearing Nike Vapourfly Elite give a runner an unfair advantage over others?
The IAAF have said that these shoes meet all its requirements and therefore the answer would appear to be not and going for the advantage the shoes provide is a matter of choice by the runner and / or perhaps access - they don't seem to be widely available, or affordability a quick look on ebay and you will be forking out over £200 for a pair.
But as Shoe manufacturers continue to seek improvements in their products, which will in turn help lead to improvements in the athletes performance, perhaps the time will come when we have to decide whether new feats in performance are down to improvements in human performance or just to technological advances.
This is not a new conundrum and also not one limited to running. For example, FINA the governing body for swimming banned the LZR Racer swimsuit which they reckoned reduced skin friction drag by 24%. There has also been some controversy surrounding the British Cycling team's use of skinsuits (used since 2008) and said to improve performance by up to 7% and are ruled as being legal.
This is not the first time such questions have been discussed and as further advances in technology continue it is certainly not going to be the last.