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Olympic Hurdles Champion Smashes World Record, Decries ‘Super Spikes’

Olympic athlete Karsten Warholm broke the world record in the 400-meter hurdles for the second time in little more than a month Tuesday.

The gold medal winner wasn’t the only athlete to turn in an incredible run, however. With a time of 46.17 seconds, second-place finisher Rai Benjamin also trounced the 46.7-second world record Warholm registered on July 1. In third place, Brazil’s Alison Dos Santos just barely missed the former record, but still managed to squeeze ahead of the 46.78-second time that had—until the current season—stood as the world record for nearly 29 years.

In the short time since the race ended, the cause of the unusually strong triple finish has become the subject of a minor controversy within track and field, with Warholm joining his fellow Puma athlete Usain Bolt in decrying the impact of so-called “super spikes.”

Since winning, the champion has said Benjamin “ran on air,” adding that “he had those things in his shoes, which I hate,” according to The Guardian. Though he ultimately praised his competitor’s performance, he reportedly said it was wrong that Nike athletes could run on the slab of Pebax foam the brand includes in its sprint spikes.

“I don’t see why you should put anything beneath a sprinting shoe,” The Guardian quoted him saying. “In middle distance I can understand it because of the cushioning. If you want cushioning, you can put a mattress there. But if you put a trampoline I think it’s bull[expletive], and I think it takes credibility away from our sport.”

Warholm, meanwhile, ran in the Evospeed Tokyo Future Faster+ spikes he developed with Puma and the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team. Despite his one-two of record-setting performances, the hurdler differentiates between his shoes and the super spikes.

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Norwegian hurdler Karsten Warholm, one of the athletes Puma worked with on the Faster+ line, broke a 29-year-old hurdling record July 1
Norwegian hurdler Karsten Warholm holds the Evospeed Tokyo Future Faster+ spikes he helped Puma develop. Puma

“Yes, we have the carbon plate,” Warholm reportedly said. “But we have tried to make it as thin as possible. Because that is the way I would like to do it. Of course, technology will always be there. But I also want to keep it down to a level where we can compare results because that is important.”

The debate over footwear’s impact on athletic performance will likely rage for a little while longer. While many have concluded that new shoe developments give those with the right kicks a leg up—brands like Reebok and Brooks have allowed their athletes to wear competitors’ shoes until they bring their own styles to market—the matter is far from settled.

Others have pointed to the Olympic track’s unusually soft surface as an explanation for Tuesday’s 400-meter hurdles finals. Even before the Olympics, some speculated that the unusual training period linked to the pandemic would produce a spate of records. And as always, genuine athletic prowess can’t immediately be ruled out. Only time will tell.