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Could Nike’s New Sneakers Be Giving Runners A Leg Up?

Nike’s latest technology is making those in the running world take a second glance, according to a New York Times report.

The shoe in question is the newly introduced Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite with Nike Zoomx Midsole. The shoes will be customized for, and worn by three East African marathon runners sponsored by the athletic brand, as a part of the Breaking2 project, trying to break the two-hour mark for running a marathon, in Monza, Italy, according to NYT.

The shoes feature light, soft and responsive cushioning, paired with a unique scooped-shaped carbon fiber plate to minimize energy loss at the toe. In theory, this helps runners conserve energy and propel them forward. Hence growing concern voiced by those in the running world over the legality of such a shoe in competitions.

“The goal of having a plate is to reduce how much energy loss happens when the runner bends at the toe,” said Dr. Geng Luo, Nike Sport Research Lab senior researcher, biomechanics. “This curved plate is stiff enough to achieve that and because it has this geometry, it does so without increasing demand on the calf.”

As for explicit rules against the sneaker, the International Association of Athletics Federations (I.A.A.F.) put forward somewhat ambiguous standards years ago, of which Nike claims to honor. One of the Federation’s rules, rule 143, states that shoes “must not be constructed so as to give an athlete any unfair additional assistance, including by the incorporation of any technology which will give the wearer any unfair advantage,”—while leaving out the definition of an unfair advantage in this context.

“Nike ZoomX truly enables the innovation of the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite,” said Tony Bignell, VP of footwear innovation for Nike, Inc. “The groundbreaking new Nike ZoomX midsole and curved carbon fiber plate work together to provide responsive cushioning and minimized energy loss at toe off.”

However, backing allegations of the shoe’s benefits, Nike’s Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia wore the Zoom Vaporfly running the second-fastest marathon to-date, just over two hours and three minutes.

The shoes are set to be released this summer. So, for now, the jury is still out on whether the I.A.A.F. will allow athletes to wear the shoes in events.