Mumbai Marathon 2020 commentator Tim Hutchings calls for Nike’s controversial Vaporfly shoes to be outlawed
Mumbai Marathon 2020 commentator Tim Hutchings, who competed at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, wants Nike’s Vaporfly shoes to be given the boot.
Tim Hutchings believes the Nike Vaporfly has lifted performances so dramatically that it has actually spoilt the sporting aspect of marathon running
The British commentator believes a runner — without the aid of technology or doping and while sticking to rules — cannot run a sub-2-hour marathon
Kenya's Cosmas Lagat, who will headline the elite men’s field at Sunday's Mumbai Marathon, says Vaporfly shoes do not have a bearing on his timing
Cosmas Lagat cracks into a smile when he’s asked about his shoes. It’s an unusual question, but perfectly suited to the current day and age where the focus around marathon running has shifted from runners’ legs and endurance to their shoes and the technology behind it, thanks to Nike’s revolutionary Vaporfly shoes.
The Kenyan runner, who will be headlining the elite men’s field at the Mumbai Marathon this Sunday, says he will be running in the Vaporflys, a bespoke version of which helped Eliud Kipchoge dip under the two-hour mark at an unofficial event in Vienna in 2019. Kipchoge’s Kenyan compatriot Brigid Kosgei also smashed the women’s marathon record at Chicago last year by a minute and 21 seconds with the Vaporflys.
Lagat, however, says that the shoes do not have a bearing on his timing. “These are like normal training shoes. It’s about the person running, not about the shoes. There’s no difference. No impact!” he says.
Tim Hutchings, who finished fourth at the 1984 Los Angeles Marathon in the 5,000m, disagrees.
“I'm an admirer of Nike as a brand and what they have achieved, but these shoes have to be outlawed,” says the Brit, who has been calling the Mumbai Marathon for several years now. “I am against the shoe. It's a technology that has lifted performances so dramatically that it has actually spoilt the sport of it. People are setting personal bests and breaking national records and course records, even setting world records like Kosgei did in Chicago, which is just ridiculous.
“People are running so fast at all levels. There are good club runners who are buying the shoes for $250-300 and improving their personal bests by over a minute in the 10k, by two-three minutes at half marathons and by five minutes over a full marathon. It's getting ridiculous!
“The ultimate example of where it’s gone wrong is what Kosgei did in Chicago. I was there as a commentator, and she broke Paula’s (Radcliffe) record, which had stood unchallenged since 2003 by over a minute. I find it annoying to see what these athletes have been able to do.”
He adds that the advantage offered by the Vaporfly is so significant that there are stories of East African runners sponsored by other shoe companies rejecting contracts in order to run in Nike’s shoes.
“I don’t blame athletes from wanting to rush out and buy a pair. But they’re living in a cuckoo-land if they genuinely think they have run a personal best with the shoes and that overnight they’ve gotten quicker.”
Kipchoge’s Vienna run was great entertainment, but…
As a commentator and race pundit for some of the top marathons around the world, Hutchings is perhaps closest to the running action after the marathoners themselves. This vantage point and his own middle distance running career has shaped his belief that men, without the aid of technology or doping, cannot run a sub-two-hour marathon.
“I have said this for many years: I don’t think a normal human being — who is clean from doping and is not getting any mechanical aid and who is adhering to the rules and regulations — will ever breach the two-hour mark. That's my belief. If you look at the stats required, and break down the speed you have to move at over each mile, it's insanely quick. A lot of people say Eliud did it in Vienna (during the INEOS 1:59 Challenge), but he didn't! They broke all the rules. What that group did in Vienna was great entertainment, but they cherry-picked the rules that suited them, and ignored other rules which didn’t. So it's an invalid run. It was not a marathon! It annoys me when people say Eliud ran under two hours at a marathon. It almost denigrates the word marathon,” says Hutchings, who’s also the founder of the Brighton Marathon.
Kipchoge’s Vienna run has been hailed as athletics’ moon-landing moment with many marvelling over how the Kenyan runner’s average pace over 100m was 17.02 seconds — a pace he sustained over 420 such 100-metre distances.
However, the run was held in contrived settings. As many as 41 pace setters substituted in and out of the race to ensure that the pace was maintained while running in an arrowhead formation so that the Kenyan ran in a slipstream with minimal wind resistance. They were guided by an electric car which projected a laser beam path on the course to show the pacemakers and Kipchoge the optimal running line. The run was also held at Vienna’s 9.6 km-long Prater Park where the Kenyan ran in a straight line for 90 percent of the effort. All these reasons meant that Kipchoge’s 1:59.40 timing is not considered as an official timing.
“That whole thing in Vienna was a farce anyway,” says Hutchings. “It wasn't a valid effort and it broke so many rules. While it was great entertainment and it attracted a lot of attention and brought road running to the fore in the media all over the world, the sad thing about this is that a lot of people think that the two-hour mark has been broken for the marathon. It absolutely bloody hasn't!
“If Eliud was wearing those shoes at the Berlin Marathon (in 2018) when he set the current world record, even that was probably invalid only because he was running in those shoes. I actually think the legitimate world record without the benefit of shoes which give you a substantial biomechanical advantage, is probably about 2:02.30 — a long way from the sub-two-hour mark.”
World Athletics are said to be mulling a ban over the Vaporflys, which Kosgei wore at Chicago, and the hybrid shoes which powered Kipchoge to dip under the two-hour mark at Vienna, leading to question marks over whether Kosgei’s timing of 2:14.4secs will still stand as the women’s marathon record.
“World Athletics have said that they will look closely at this and that it may get banned. Whether it will or not I don’t know, but I hope they do because you have to draw the line somewhere.
“World Athletics probably should have (checked this from the start). They’ve possibly been guilty of taking their eye off the ball with regards to the technicalities of the rules on equipment,” says Hutchings, who adds, “Retrospectively, they are going to have to go back on performance charts and lists and rankings on every race. Athletes are going to have to own up or World Athletics are going to have to go through videos to look at the athletes’ shoes. It’s almost as if the genie is out of the bottle and it’s hard to put it back in.”