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Unsponsored elite runners to be provided with carbon-fibre shoes

Elite athletes wearing versions of the Nike Vaporfly, the carbon plates of which lend a propulsive sensation to every stride, have set a host of personal bests and Nike runners have practically swept the board in long-distance events.

Nike VaporFly. Picture: Instagram/Nike.

PARIS - World Athletics announced Tuesday it was creating a scheme to provide unsponsored elite runners with the same carbon-fibre versions of shoes that have revolutionised road running, in an acceptance that the technological advances are irreversible.

Elite athletes wearing versions of the Nike Vaporfly, the carbon plates of which lend a propulsive sensation to every stride, have set a host of personal bests and Nike runners have practically swept the board in long-distance events - they took 31 of the 36 podium places at the six marathon majors last year.

Eliud Kipchoge wore an advanced version of the shoes when the Kenyan become the first man to break the two-hour barrier for the marathon in October 2019.

The shoes, which are now being produced by other sportswear manufacturers, have led to accusations that they create unfair competition.

World Athletics has already limited the thickness of the sole on the shoes to 40 millimetres, a rule it kept in place Tuesday.

In a new initiative, track and field's governing body said it would provide athletes with the shoes if they do not already receive them from sponsors, under a "Athletic Shoe Availability Scheme".

"The Working Group on Athletic Shoes will develop this scheme including timelines, elite athlete criteria, numbers of pairs of shoes required and method of distribution," it said in a statement.

The governing body says the rules are designed "to maintain the current technology status quo" until the Tokyo Olympics.

After that the Working Group on Athletic Shoes, which includes representatives from shoe manufacturers and the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry, will work "to set the parameters for achieving the right balance between innovation, competitive advantage and universality and availability."

World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon said the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics as a result of the coronavirus pandemic had given the governing body "more time to consult with stakeholders and experts and develop amended rules that will guide the sport through until late 2021".

"We have a better understanding now of what technology is already in the market and where we need to draw the line to maintain the status quo until after the Tokyo Olympic Games," Ridgeon said.