As Joshua Cheptegei closed in on a staggering 10,000m men’s world record (26:11) on Wednesday there was an unmistakable blur of lime green painting the Ugandan’s path towards greatness.
The 24-year-old snatched the standard at the meeting in Valencia to complement his equally astonishing 5,000m feat months earlier (12:35). A colossal night for athletics was complete after Ethiopian and fellow Nike athlete Letesenbet Gidey had earlier seized supremacy in the women’s 5,000m (14:06).
It confirmed a new dawn for the sport, which has been forced to adapt like no other in 2020 in the age of Covid-19, bruised by the postponement of the Olympic Games and deprived of a major championship. Athletes have refused to allow their training to go to waste though, with glorified time trialling and technology providing intrigue from the public to temporarily replace fierce competition and the lure of medals.
The gripping spectacle of NN’s ‘World Record Day’ saw many eyes drawn to the feet of Cheptegei, who took six seconds off Kenenisa Bekele’s previous record, which had stood for 15 years. The lime green swoosh is the signature of the new ZoomX Dragonfly spikes, which Nike hope will revolutionise the track in the same way that the Alphafly has done for Eliud Kipchoge on the road in the marathon. They contain a full-length plate and a revolutionary foam known as Pebax, with the sportswear giant boasting that they are the “fastest shoes ever”.
Cheptegei also followed a series of flashing lights on the perimeter of the infield known as Wavelight technology. While this is undoubtedly informative for viewers at home, it is also clearly an advantage for today’s athletes when looking to dial in a desired pace.
The ghost of Bekele’s 2005 effort then, in the form of neon green lights, failed to escape Cheptegei’s metronome-like rhythm, but now, with Tokyo on the horizon, a debate over technology and fairness lingers.
“The main thing for me is I’m happy with what I wear,” explains Jake Wightman, a New Balance athlete who ran the second fastest British 1,500m of all time in Monaco two months ago. “I never feel like I’m at a disadvantage because the spikes I wear are as good as I could ask for.
“I believe a spike is a spike, you will get minimal advantages from that. The hard work is done away from what footwear you’re wearing, in training or in the gym.