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Super shoes are nothing to be scared of

Tigst Assefa after winning in Berlin. Luciano Lima/Getty

Marathon running records are tumbling in this year, says The Economist. In Berlin, Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa set a new fastest time for women (2hr 11min 53sec); in Chicago, Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum did the same for men (2:00:35). And they’ve got their footwear to thank. Both athletes broke the records wearing so-called “super shoes” – trainers with chunky foam soles that effectively act as springs, giving runners much more oomph when they push off the ground. Nike and Adidas have persuaded World Athletics that these kinetic kicks are legitimate, but critics argue they have become “too dominant”. Eight of the 10 fastest women’s marathon times have been recorded since the start of 2022 – and some think they should be “scrubbed from the records”.

This “technophobia” is misplaced. Sometimes advances have to be reined in: javelins were made less aerodynamic to “save spectators from a spearing”; restrictions were placed on cricket bats “to prevent skewing the game in favour of batters”. But technology has always helped humans improve at sport, and banning super shoes would be regressive. Just look at swimming. When competitors wearing full-body Speedo suits smashed multiple world records at the 2008 Olympics, the authorities swiftly banned the kit. But swimmers found other ways to improve, and today, just one of the women’s world records set in a Speedo suit still stands. The likes of Assefa and Kiptum are astonishing athletes. “We should marvel at their feats, not what’s on their feet.”