According to a study published in Sports Medicine this January, every women’s and men’s world record from the 5K to the marathon has been broken since the technology’s introduction in 2016. In each case, the runner wore a shoe with a carbon fiber plate.
In the past year, the technology has begun to expand out of distance running and into track and field. The advantage of these new “super spikes”—recognized not just for their carbon plates, but also for their superlight foam—has become so clear that brands like Reebok and Brooks are allowing their athletes to wear competitors’ shoes until they get their own styles to market.
“We are offering our athletes the option [to] wear competitor products because we understand the importance footwear plays on race day,” Brooks said in a statement. “We’re confident our new Speed category initiative from BlueLine Lab—Brooks’ speed-to-market innovation team—will accelerate application of our state-of-the-art speed technology to Brooks’ elite footwear and inline speed product in the near future.”
Likewise, Reebok said it is temporarily letting members of its elite Reebok Boston Track Club compete in any World Athletics-approved footwear “that provides an even playing field with their competition.”
“While we believe in the performance of our running product, we also acknowledge the recent advances in footwear technology at the elite level,” the brand said in a statement. “Reebok is actively innovating competition footwear that meets the needs of our Reebok Boston Track Club athletes; however the final prototypes are not quite race day ready.”
Not everyone is welcoming the new spikes with open arms, however.
Usain Bolt, the world record holder in the men’s 100-meter and 200-meter, denounced the recent advancements in track spikes in an interview with Reuters. The now-retired Jamaican champion said it is “weird and unfair for a lot of athletes,” given authorities’ prior stance regarding spike advancements. “To know that now they are actually doing it, it’s laughable,” the Olympic gold medal winner added.
“When I was told about it I couldn’t believe that this is what we have gone to, you know what I mean, that we are really adjusting the spikes to a level where it’s now giving athletes an advantage to run even faster,” the world’s fastest man told Reuters.
Bolt may have his misgivings, but his long-time footwear partner Puma is all-in on the technology. Just last week, it hosted a press event showcasing its new carbon fiber-based Faster+ line. The footwear, designed in partnership with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team, embeds a thin layer of carbon fiber in the sole, as well as carbon fiber threads through the midfoot.
Puma’s new spikes are already proving their worth. Earlier this month, Norwegian hurdler Karsten Warholm, one of the athletes Puma worked with directly as it developed the Faster+ line, broke the world record for the 400-meter hurdles, edging past American hurdler Kevin Young’s 29-year-old record.
The German sportswear brand’s Faster+ platform extends beyond just Warholm’s event. Canadian sprinter André De Grasse will be wearing the Evospeed Tokyo Future Nitro Faster+ as he runs in the 100-meter and 200-meter, Bolt’s old signature races. Other athletes donning Puma’s new spikes include Ukrainian high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh, Swedish pole vaulter Armand “Mondo” Duplantis and Swiss sprinter Ajla Del Ponte.
The style most associated with the track spike revolution might be Nike’s ZoomX Dragonfly. After breaking the 1500-meter high school record in May by nearly four seconds—enough to surpass even the NCAA record in the event—Hobbs Kessler acknowledged that his Nike spikes “definitely” helped, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“It kind of gives Nike athletes an unfair advantage, especially with patents and stuff,” Kessler said. “So it creates a little bit of inequity in the sport, which I don’t like.”
Despite all the hype carbon fiber plates and Nike’s DragonFly have received, not everyone is convinced the technology will have the same impact on track and field as it did in distance running. Trayvon Bromwell will also take on Bolt’s 100-meter title at this year’s Olympics. The New Balance runner told reporters last week he didn’t think there’s a lot of data to show that [the new spikes are] having such a big improvement.”
“I know we (New Balance) are constantly building onto what we have to make the perfect spike, but for me personally as a runner I still feel like it’s not enough data to really show,” Bromwell added.