Revolutionary shoes tiptoe into students’ lines of sight

In the hallways on campus, on the track, and in the gym, a minute glimpse at a pair of athletic shoes could give CHS shoe aficionados all they need to identify and analyze the shoes they see. The constantly expanding athletic shoe markets’ ad campaigns and sponsorships create an environment where shoes are held with high regard, and while publicity is a big contributor to the popularity of shoes, advances in shoe technology are the primary instigators in the shoe market. In the constantly evolving market, new technologies are quick to gain lasting traction in the athletic shoe industry. There is a palpable trickle-down effect from elite athletes able to use advanced new athletic technology to amateurs willing to pay a premium for the real thing. Meanwhile, cheaper alternatives are created for those who are unwilling or unable to buy the newest technology.

In all of the aforementioned cases, Nike is at the forefront of athletic technological development, successfully getting their products to the most well-renowned athletes in nearly every sport. One of their recent steps ahead of the time and competition is the FitAdapt system, which has been compared to the self-lacing technology featured in Back to the Future. First unveiling the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 a few years ago at extremely high prices, Nike came out with the Nike Adapt BB recently, revolutionizing the way athletes think about shoe fit. Another leap in shoe tech made by Nike is the Nike Vaporfly 4%, a shoe that Nike claims augments running performance by four percent. Some may argue that the Nike 4% science is a sham, but Gretchen Reynolds for The New York Times cites two credible studies (not incentivized by money from Nike) in her article “Nike Vaporfly 4% Shoe May Make Some Run Faster” that are in accordance in the finding that the Vaporflys are more efficient than their Adidas counterparts, other Nike marathon racers, and Nike track spikes. The studies found that even when accounting for their low mass, Vaporflys allowed participants to consume less oxygen and essentially work less to do the same things on a treadmill with other shoes. Researchers claim the shoe alters runners’ form slightly to reduce the amount of muscular activity below the ankle needed to complete a stride, proving that the Nike Vaporfly 4% shoe is indeed a valuable advancement in running technology. A third innovation in athletic shoe technology in the recent years is the use of foam in midsoles, which allow for a new level of lightness in lifestyle running shoes. Adidas first came out with the Adidas UltraBoost in 2013, and it soon became a huge success.

Completely foam midsoles are an excellent example of how innovations in athletic shoe science influence the market. After the UltraBoosts became a hit years ago, Nike and UnderArmour unveiled their takes on foam-based shoes in early 2018, taking notes on Adidas’ success with the concept. The foam midsoles introduced by Adidas then later copied by competing brands go to show that one new hit for a brand could influence an entire industry.

The Nike Vaporfly 4%, on the other foot, is a prime example of the trickle-down effect from professional runners to amateurs and high school athletes. Because of the Vaporfly’s high demand and low supply, the shoes became only readily obtainable by sponsored athletes. To capitalize on this, Nike released a cheaper Vaporfly for the masses, the Zoomfly, which is not proven to boost performance. However, the shoes and their Flyknit counterpart have become popular choices for high school runners. Zoomfly owner, CHS junior, and varsity track and field and cross-country athlete Adam Trafecanty reflects on the trickle-down effect of Nike’s Vaporfly 4%.

“I think seeing Vaporflys on professional runners affects my behavior in buying Zoomflys a little bit because if they’re using it, obviously, you know the technology might work,” Trafecanty said. “Nike’s presence at the forefront of running definitely does affect my behavior as a consumer.”

One can see a cycle in the diffusion of advanced shoe technology to CHS students: first, a company produces a revolutionary new athletic product; next, other athletic shoe giants mimic their idea; and lastly, the price is reduced or a cheaper version is unveiled, allowing athletes like Trafecanty to have their taste of shoe science by echoing—in the mud on Thompson Creek Trail—world record holder Eliud Kipchoge’s final footprints at the Berlin Marathon.