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Is The Tokyo Olympic Running Track Leading to Broken Records?

·2-min read
Photo credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images
Photo credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images

The running track designed for the Tokyo Olympics is offering runners improved performances, one of its designers has said.

Andrea Vallauri, an international relations manager for the track’s designer, Mondo, said it includes rubber granules that create small pockets of air, generating one to two percent improvements in runners’ performances.

Vallauri told The Daily Mail: 'What you are seeing is evolution. Clearly every time there is an Olympic Games we try to improve the formulation of the material, and Tokyo has been no different.'

Explaining the science behind the new track, he said: 'We have tried to improve [it] by adding an extra compound. The track is very thin – 14mm. But we have added these rubber granules. How best to describe it: in the lower layer of the track is this hexagonal design that creates these small pockets of air.

'They not only provide shock absorption but give some energy return; at the same time a trampoline effect. We have improved this combination and this is why we are seeing the track has improved performance.'

This latest evolution of the Olympic track has seen some extraordinary results. In Tuesday’s historic 400m hurdles event, Norway’s Karsten Warholm broke his own world record by 0.76. Meanwhile Elaine Thompson-Herah set a new Olympic record for the women’s 100m, while surprise men’s 100m winner Lamont Marcell Jacobs is now the world's fastest athlete currently running.

Sydney McLaughlin, who also broke her own record in the women’s 400m hurdles, has praised the energy return of Mondo’s track, according to the New York Times. 'You can feel the bounce,' she said. 'Some tracks just absorb your bounce and your motion; this one regenerates it and gives it back to you.'

The effect described by athletes is similar to that of ‘super spike’ shoes developed by brands like Nike. These shoes offer exceptional energy return, meaning runners need less energy to maintain a certain speed, and can therefore perform at higher speeds.

The technology used in the shoes has proven to be very controversial. Usain Bolt has said he believes he could have run faster using super spikes, while former marathon record holder Tegla Loroupe has said athletes wearing them are ‘cheating’. Even Warholm has criticised the shoes, saying they undermine credibility in athletics, although he has collaborated with Puma and Mercedes to produce his own carbon plate shoes.

But others are less critical. Lord Coe responded to Warholm’s comments by saying he didn’t want to ‘strangle the innovation’ of shoe manufacturers, The Independent reported. He said, 'There is a balance – of course there is a balance. We’ve got a system that evaluates the shoes.'

'The principle I’ve always tried to maintain is a level playing field and I think we’re going to get to the point where there isn’t a massive advantage in whatever brand you wear.'

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