Joanne O’Riordan: Technology gives top athletes a further leg up

Changes in training may have allowed athletes to simply run more and become stronger

Nike, New Balance, Adidas and other footwear companies are going to want their brand, their shoe and their athlete as top dog

There’s an incredibly exciting seismic shift in momentum in the athletics world not solely down to the fact it’s one of the only things on at the minute in the world of sports due to Covid, but because every time you glance at various streams chances are someone, somewhere is breaking national records, world records and personal bests.

In short, racing is actually exciting outside of an Olympics forum. So, why is that?

Well, as a casual athletics fan there have been numerous reasons relayed back to me as to why the sky is the limit in athletics.

One theory suggests that due to Covid and the fact that heats and races are limited, with training camps getting more intense and more prolonged, athletes have never been so primed and ready for competition, especially when the stakes are so high and there is very little security if you fail.


The concrete training block has provided athletes with numerous attempts at unofficial time-trials alongside their training partner, who is also a top-ranked athlete in their respective field.

The changes in training schedules may have allowed athletes to simply run more and become stronger as they are no longer dropping mileage to prepare for competition.

Athletes’ preparation is also probably at a level in terms of technology, nutrition, physiology and everything in between where it probably has never been before.

Another theory that was suggested – and which always comes to athletics – is doping, and could these athletes have taken a supplement that could boost their performance without anyone noticing?

We all know doping has ruined a lot of sports and raised lots of eyebrows and scepticism. Nobody is naïve enough to think just because there’s Covid there’s no testing.

While testing was initially suspended during Lockdown 1, Sport Ireland enlisted the Garda to actually help it when it came to testing athletes.

Sport Ireland would have one of the strictest anti-doping regimes in the world, but there are always people who continuously point to doping as a reason for record-breaking races. Just a small bit of advice: don’t be that person, it’s incredibly tiresome.

One theory

But there is one theory that could possibly explain the record-breaking. Nike and New Balance have released new spikes powered by a superlight and highly responsive Pebax material. While longer spikes were usually a source of discomfort with athletes, technology has now launched us into a new era of possible super-racing, excitement and possibly new fans for athletics.

The shoes are causing a split between racing fans and a few athletes. In an article by Sean Ingle in the Guardian he expressed frustration about how the athletes are smashing world records but nobody is crediting that to the Nike Vaporfly or New Balance.

Fans, pundits and professional athletes are questioning whether the shoes are helping, hindering or ruining the sport, and should better regulations be put in place to deal with innovative technology, such as the new spikes.

It is essential to state that these new spikes are currently allowed and are being used to prepare for the Olympics and Paralympics. These shoes are not illegal, and with these shoes being sold across the world – admittedly for a cool couple of hundred euro – are accessible to everyone from your Olympic competitor to average Joe or Josephine who runs the odd 5km whenever they feel like it.

Talking point

But the fuss seems to be about nothing really. While the shoes were a huge talking point at road-racing, people tend to forget that the athlete still has to do something to be a record-breaker.

The whole conversation reminded me of an episode of The Simpsons where geeky professor Professor Frink designed ballet shoes for Lisa, where she flicked a switch and suddenly she was the Black Swan, gliding across the stage without a problem – that was before the shoes took on a mind of their own and Homer had to trip Lisa to make her, the shoes, stop dancing.

What other people seem to forget is how technology is changing for everyone. Technology and discoveries about the track are being made every day. Pacing technologies are changing, and athletes are also in better condition now than ever before.

Training technology has quadrupled over the last few years. Even your local GAA club team uses the most up-to-date trackers to get the best out of its panel.

Innovation is inevitable, especially in a sport that draws in mass crowds and attention. Nike, New Balance, Adidas and other footwear companies are going to want their brand, their shoe and their athlete as top dog.

And, let’s be real, it is only a matter of time before another invention in footwear ruins another sport for everyone.