Class Year

2021

Access Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department or Program

Science, Technology, and Society Program

First Advisor

José G. Perillán

Second Advisor

Justin J. Harris

Abstract

Over one weekend at the beginning of October 2019, Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-two-hour marathon in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge and Brigid Kosgei’s world-record-breaking Chicago Marathon win reset the clock in terms of what was believed to be humanly possible in the marathon. Both Kipchoge and Kosgei’s feats were accomplished thanks to the help of Nike’s carbon plate shoes, as well as developments in training, pacing, and a myriad of other factors that play into athletic performance. Earlier versions of the shoes they wore first had the potential to change performance outcomes in 2016, at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles. Networks of people had engaged in a discourse about the shoes beginning in 2016, but these debates exploded in late 2019. Throughout this period, academic and anecdotal evidence more or less proved that Nike’s carbon plate shoes conferred a very real performance advantage to the majority of athletes wearing them. Three general camps of thought emerged in these discussions: that the shoes were ruining the sport; that the shoes were impressive and not inherently damaging, but that they were introduced to the sport in a way that enhanced inequalities; and that the shoes were awesome and were helping to move the sport forward.

Because of the proven advantage some runners experience while wearing the carbon-fiber plate Pebax-foam shoes, the running community has been forced to grapple with how to regulate “fairness” with respect to new technologies and how to manage the tension between innovation and tradition. Debates about the shoes’ use are especially contentious among elite runners but have been relevant for runners at every level; the shoes reflect broader human concerns about the boundary between what is “natural” or “artificial,” as well as challenge our communal understandings about technology’s place in sport and human performance.

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