Feb 26, 2020 - Sports

The race to catch Nike's Vaporfly shoe before the 2020 Olympics

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Four months ago, on the very same weekend, Eliud Kipchoge became the first human to run a marathon in under two hours, and fellow Kenyan Brigid Kosgei shattered the women's marathon record.

Why it matters: Kipchoge and Kosgei were both wearing Nike's controversial Vaporfly sneakers, which many believed would be banned because of the performance boost provided by a carbon-fiber plate in the midsole that acted as a spring and saved the runner energy.

  • Instead, World Athletics, track and field's governing body, published new rules last month regarding sole thickness and carbon-fiber plates that effectively rendered the Vaporfly legal.

Driving the news: Competing brands are now scrambling to build their own shoes to compete with the Vaporfly, and the clock is ticking.

  • The U.S. Olympic marathon trials are this weekend in Atlanta, and shoe companies are still playing catch-up as they adjust to the new norm.
  • The Tokyo Olympic marathons are in August, and any prototype that a runner wants to wear must be available at retail by April 30 — a deadline that has grown increasingly difficult to meet as Chinese manufacturers combat the coronavirus.

What they're saying: While rival companies are confident that their carbon-fiber plate designs will eventually be on par with the Vaporfly, Nike's formidable lead has forced them to acknowledge the gap that currently exists.

  • The head of Saucony even went as far as to say she would be open to allowing one of her sponsored runners to wear a competitor's shoes if he felt he'd be at a disadvantage without them.
  • "We would have to consider that," said Saucony president Anne Cavassa, per the Wall Street Journal.

The big picture: Running, the most elemental of sports, now faces the same "human ability vs. technological innovation" challenge that other sports like tennis (rackets) and swimming (full-body suits) have encountered.

The bottom line: The running industry is in the midst of a high-tech shoe revolution, and the outcome will affect everything from shoe sales and stock prices to who wins Olympic gold.

Go deeper: Ethiopian runner smashes half-marathon record in Nike Vaporfly shoes

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Molly Seidel scores 2nd at U.S. Olympic marathon trials in her first sanctioned race

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Running in her first-ever sanctioned marathon, Molly Seidel took second place at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials to secure one of three spots on the U.S. women's team for the Tokyo Games.

The backdrop: Seidel was a four-time champion at Notre Dame, but she'd been off the grid since 2016. She revealed her battles with an eating disorder and other mental and physical ailments in a lengthy piece on Runner's World.

Go deeperArrowMar 2, 2020 - Sports

Chinese authorities send Uighurs to work at Nike supplier

The posters on the wall alongside the Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. factory. Photo: Anna Fifield/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Hundreds of ethnic Uighurs have been sent to work at Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co., a large Nike supplier and one of the American brand's biggest factories, The Washington Post reports.

Why it matters per Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: Nike is one of the many American companies whose supply chains are closely intertwined with forced labor in Xinjiang, and it's actually against the law for U.S. companies to import goods made through forced labor.

Go deeperArrowFeb 29, 2020 - World

Coronavirus: Norway, Brazil join U.S. teams in push for postponement of Tokyo Olympics

Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Organizing Committee President Yoshiro Mori watches as Olympic gold medalists Tadahiro Nomura and Saori Yoshida hold the Olympic torch on March 20 in Matsushima, Miyagi, Japan. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Norway and Brazil's Olympic committees — alongside the USA Swimming and Track and Field teams — are joining the call for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to be postponed, due to the novel coronavirus.

The latest: The Brazilian Olympic Committee called on Saturday for the games to be postponed until 2021, citing rising infection rates and "the consequent difficulty for athletes to maintain their best competitive level due to the need to stop training and competitions in global scale."

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 21, 2020 - Health