Track & Field at the Olympics. Let’s talk “Super Spikes”!

Track and Field Super Spikes

Usain Bolt is the holder of the World Records in the 100 metres (9.58 seconds) and 200 meters, at 19.19 seconds, both of which he set at the 2009 Berlin World Track and Field Championships. Oh.. and he is also an 8 time Olympic Champion.

It seems old Usain is a bit nervous he might see those World records go south, maybe at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, because he has come out swinging against what are now being called the “super spikes”!

Bolt has called the new technology ‘weird and unfair’.

“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,” Bolt told Reuters in an interview from Kingston.

That has always been the name of the game Mr. Bolt.. might be time to suck it up?

But, fair enough, Usain wants to see his records last a bit longer, who wouldn’t, but maybe we should talk about what exactly “super spikes” are.

Nike were the first out of the blocks (yeeess.. haha) in the mainstream “super shoe” race with the ubiquitous Nike Vaporfly 4% . This family of shoes evolved to include the Alphafly, and the current top of the crop Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next %.

Nike has changed the running footwear technology landscape with its groundbreaking Vaporfly and Alphafly family of shoes. This is the Nike Airzoom Alphafly Next %.


The Vaporfly 4% and subsequent models were so successful that every mainstream running shoe manufacturer has literally fallen over themselves to try to match their dominance.

How dominant?

Well, the Nike Super Shoe family owns the men and women’s records for both Marathon and half marathon, plus the only sub2 hour time in history (1:59:40) over the marathon distance.

So.. pretty dominant.

Then in September in Doha, Qatar at the 2020 World Track and Field Championships, Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan took double gold  when she won the 1,500m and 10,000m in a track spike version of the shoe.

And so Nike has morphed from the “Super Shoes” to the “Super Spike”, and THAT is what has ‘ol Usain so worried.

The Nike Air Zoom Victory, also known as ‘super spikes’, the use of which has seen world records tumbling on the athletics track in recent months. Photograph: Nike

Now the genie is not only out of the bottle, it is granting wishes at a record rate. The men’s 5,000m and 10,000m world records? Both toppled in recent months, along with the women’s 5,000m. And then in February came the jaw-dropping sight of Elliot Giles, who has never reached a world final, running the second-fastest indoor 800m in history – 1min 43:63sec – to smash Seb Coe’s UK record.

The British runner Elliot Giles (left) on his way to running the second-fastest indoor 800m in history in Torun, Poland. Source 

Another Briton, Marc Scott, stripped his 10,000m PB by 46 seconds – which moved him above Dave Bedford and Brendan Foster in the all-time list. 46 seconds??? Absolutely unprecedented!

This time round though, Nike is not in clear air, rumours abound that New Balance’s Super Spike is even faster. We shall see in Tokyo!

How much faster might these shoe be? Well. it depends.

The impact will vary by event, as race speed, athlete mechanics and contact times with the track differ. However, we suggest that something like 2% is a reasonable number.

Keep in mind also that that some athletes will be high responders to the spikes, while others will see only a small improvement.

It doesn’t sound like a lot but 2% is enormous at elite levels.

To give this number perspective, 2% equates to 20 metres over 1500m. It is pretty rare to see a 1500 metre race won by 20 metres! So, it is therefore entirely possible that these super spikes may teleport a semi-final calibre athlete to the medal podium. Boost your sports medicine knowledge with the full history of athletic footwear in our Athletic Footwear: The Masterclass course!


The redoubtable Professor Benno Nigg of course has an opinion!

He likens recent developments in shoe technology to that of changing track surfaces in the 1960s.

The transition from running surfaces made of natural materials, like cinder, to artificial ones in competition benefitted sprinters’ speed, he explains.

“If you look at the world records at that time, you have to make an asterisk by the name because it’s a different situation, and I think they have to do the same thing if they allow these shoes,” .

He believes that super spikes have played a “substantial” role in recent record-breaking runs, attributing the gains to better energy return offered by the thick soles.

“They are thicker under the ball of the foot, and that thicker part acts like a spring,” he said.

And of course, we know that the material used in the forefoot midsole is Poly Ether Block Amide (PEBA), much better known as PEBAX, a material that is lighter and has about 25% better energy return than any other midsole material. It is a game-changer.

Coincidentally it is also a material that can be manipulated in almost an infinite number of ways to adjust the rigidity/rebound ratio. Pretty handy if one is building a shoe for an athlete with Olympic Gold Medal aspirations…!

Weighing in on developments in shoe technology, World Athletics said:

“The current regulations [July 2020] were designed to give certainty to athletes preparing for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, to preserve the integrity of elite competition and to limit technological development to the current level until after the Olympic Games in Tokyo, across all events.”

It said a working group on shoes aimed to set parameters to achieve a balance between innovation, competitive advantage and availability of the products.

Hmm, well we reserve judgement on that! Shoes are meant to be commercially available too, but the likelihood of anyone lining up for the 100 metres Olympic final in a commercially available shoe is akin to finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. All will be one-off versions made and tuned specifically for the athlete.

Performing in the Nike Air Zoom Maxfly, Jamaican two-time Olympic gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce clocked the fastest 100m time in 33 years on 5 June in Kingston with a career-best 10.63s.

Only American world record holder Florence Griffith-Joyner has gone faster – 10.49s in Indianapolis in 1988. It is worth remembering that in the year following her World record, when random dope testing was introduced, Griffith Joyner retired. Ten years later the American, who never failed a dope test, died in her sleep at the age of 38.

Nike Air Zoom Maxfly

For the men, American Trayvon Bromell is favourite to take Bolt’s 100m title in Tokyo. He is the fastest in the world over the distance this year with 9.77s. Bromell runs for New Balance, however, our sources are remaining very tight lipped on which shoe he will wear in Tokyo. We know a bit more about NB’s plan for their up and coming 5000 and 10,000m runner Rose Davies, who will be wearing the NB LDX spike.

However, Nike remain confident and looks set to dominate and is priding itself on being a leader in the technology.

“We’re just smarter about how we engineer and assemble them,” Nike said.

It is difficult to argue this statement given the current status.

Trayvon Bromell is sponsored by New Balance and is the fastest over 100m this year

What else does Nike have in its quiver for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

This is the Nike Viperfly, a simply stunning piece of forward tech thinking. It is designed specifically for the 100m and features a carbon plate and forefoot Nike Air Zoom unit. The Atomknit upper is a new version of Nike Flyknit and is designed to maximise heel lockdown for a secure fit. A thing of beauty!

In February, Nike shelved plans to release the Viperfly for the Olympics. According to The Times, the shoe generated lightning-fast times in testing. Experts did not think it would pass World Athletics shoe regulations, The Times reported, “amid concerns that its spike plate was acting as a secondary spring”. World Athletics rules state runners cannot provide “unfair assistance or advantage”.

This is the Nike Air Zoom Victory and it is designed for anything from 800m to 10,000m on the track. Inspired by the Nike Alphafly NEXT% it utilises Nike ZoomX foam, a carbon fibre plate and Nike Air Zoom technology. The ZoomX foam provides cushioning and superb rebound while the Air Zoom unit is sandwiched between the carbon plate and spike plate. It is hard to imagine a more sophisticated bit of sprinting kit!

So, the battle lines are drawn, and it promises to be a fascinating track meet at the Olympics. Although Nike have undoubtedly put on a Masterclass in footwear innovation over the last 5 years, something tells us Nike may not have it all their own way!

We shall know the answer soon!

Stop press!

At the time of writing, the 100 metres finals had not been run.

They have now!

In the Men’s Lamont Jacobs of Italy took the Gold Medal in 9.8 seconds wearing the Nike Air Zoom Maxfly

Fred Kerley (USA) won the Silver Medal in 9.84 seconds wearing the Nike Air Zoom Maxfly

Andre DeGrasse (CAN) claimed the Bronze medal for a 2nd successive Olympics in 9.89 seconds, wearing Puma spikes.

Hot favorite Trayvon Bromell, running in the much hyped New Balance Super Spikes did not progress past the semi finals. 

Usain Bolt need not be concerned, the gap between his standing World record of 9.58 seconds and these times is the equivalent of the Grand Canyon.

In the Women’s 100 metres, red hot favourite Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could only manage the Silver Medal, wearing the Nike Air Zoom Maxfly

The Gold Medal went to her arch rival and defending champion Elaine Thompson-Herah taking Jamaica to a 1-2-3 in the Olympic women’s 100 metres final, posting an amazing 10.61 seconds to become the second-fastest woman in history. She wore the Nike Air Zoom Maxfly. It is still a long way from Flo Jo’s 10.49 though..

Taking out the Bronze was Sherika Jackson, a 400 metre specialist, wearing the Puma spike.

So in the Battle of the Super Spike for the 100 metres men’s and women’s, it is Nike taking the Gold.. no Silver, and a long way back to Bronze for Puma!



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5 responses to “Track & Field at the Olympics. Let’s talk “Super Spikes”!”

  1. I am sure that Stirling Moss (described as the greatest driver never to have won a world championship) would have loved to have Lewis Hamilton’s car back in the 50’s!

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