The Race for Brands to Match Nike’s Vaporfly | WSJ

– I think a lot of runners are discouraged that shoes have become such
a huge focus in a sport that used to be seen as so elemental, it was just about your
training, and your fitness, and you on the open road, and this shoe technology
controversy has changed all that. People wonder where was
this regulation earlier? They feel like, not all brands
were given the same chance to develop this technology, that may be the spirit of the rules was largely ignored for several years. – [Narrator] On January 31st, World Athletics Track and
Field’s World Governing Body release new regulations about shoes worn in elite marathon competition, in the wake of record breaking times from runners wearing Nike Vaporfly shoes. The regulations set specific limits about the height and composition
of distance running shoes. Soles can be no thicker
than 40 millimeters, and any rigid plates must
be in one continuous plane. 2020 is an Olympic year, the January ruling means
athletes can wear prototypes in February’s Olympic trials, but any new shoes must be
available at retail by April 30th if they are to be worn
at the Tokyo Olympics. So, how are shoe companies scrambling to match Nike’s Vaporfly technology? – Well, I think the first
objection by critics was the timing. Because, World Athletics
had received complaints about these Nike shoes
or concerns at least for at least the past two or three years. And yet, it took until January for them to take any
really specific action. So, I think competing brands were saying, “Hey, this is an Olympic year. “This is incredibly important
for not only the development “of our technology but
also for our competitors “who have their highest
profile competition.” The U.S. is almost unique in the world in that it holds trials for
the Olympic marathon team. Most other nations hand
select their marathoners, but in the case of the U.S., you have to finish in the
top three among women or men to qualify. Of course, that makes
it incredibly important that you’re in shape,
and that you have a shoe that can beat other runners. – [Narrator] Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal
studied the Vaporfly, asking experts to dissect the shoe to demonstrate what some
athletes and critics say give the shoes an advantage. – Second, you can see the full
length carbon fiber plate. And this carbon fiber plate
adds a lot of stiffness and stability to the shoe as well. – [Narrator] It’s a
race to spring deadline for brands to release shoes
if they haven’t already, that contain a carbon plate and comply with the new
World Athletics regulations. While Hoka One own a shoe comparable to the Vaporfly technology, and has been out since May 2019, we’ll see debuts from brands like Saucony, with their Endorphin Pro,
which will be released globally on April 15. Brooks will publicly launched
their Hyperion Elite shoe on February 29th, but announced five days
before the Olympic trials that some of their elite
athletes will be racing in the next iteration,
the Hyperion elite two, which will hit the market in late April, ahead of the April 30th deadline. Adidas Adizero Pro will
be available to the public in select markets from April
1 and worldwide by May 15. New Balance released their
FuelCell TC in February, and ASICS will release their
Metaracer shoe in spring, but Nike’s athletes may
wear the new Alphafly on February, 29th. It does have a thicker
sole than the Vaporfly, but the brand has said it will comply with the new regulations. – Privately, and
especially to one another, some runners who run on competing shoes, have expressed concern about
whether theirs will match up, not only with the current Nikes, but these yet unseen new Nikes. I think some athletes
and brands feel that Nike has too much influence in the sport. It’s the leading brand in
performance running shoes, and sponsors many, many athletes, sponsors U.S.A. track and field. The president of World Athletics is a longtime former
Nike sponsored athlete. Competitors worry that
maybe that relationship is a little bit too close with the body that’s supposed to be regulating it. – [Narrator] When asked
about the body’s independence from Nike, World Athletics
responded in a statement, “We need to balance what
is currently in the market “at an elite level “and draw a line by prohibiting shoes “that may go further than what
is currently on the market, “until further research is undertaken.” And that, “No shoe company
was directly involved “in shaping the regulations.” A Nike spokesperson said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, “We believe the New World athletics rules “will stifle innovation
over the long term, “ultimately impacting
athletes, consumers, and fans”. Brooks said in a comment
to the Wall Street Journal, “Generally we would spend
more time between prototype “and bringing a shoe to market, “but the recent WA ruling pushed us “to reassess our go-to-market strategy.” – One of the reasons why
these questions about shoes are so important is because running isn’t only for elites. Last year in the U.S.,
about 15 million people went running at least once. And if there’s a shoe that someone thinks is gonna make them run a half
marathon or a 10k faster, they might be very
interested in buying it. So, this is not only
a question for elites, but it’s also a question for the market.

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