why were so many Olympic records broken in Tokyo?

An American magazine recently gave the floor to a manager of a major equipment manufacturer. According to her, the number of records set in athletics at the Tokyo Olympics is not only the result of the intensive preparation of the participants.

Which records have been broken?

In the women’s event, Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah retained her titles in the 100m and 200m at the Tokyo Olympics, which she won in Rio in 2016. On July 31, 2021, she became the fastest woman in the world in the 100 meters in 10.61 seconds and then in the 200 meters in 21.53 seconds. She was clearly not as fast as the American Florence Griffith-Joyner who had achieved 10.49 s at 100 m and 21.34 s at 200 m in 1988. However, these records are not counted. Through strong suspicions of doping. The women’s and men’s records were set in the 400m hurdles. American Sydney McLaughlin clocked 51.56s, breaking her own record of 51.90s set before the Games. Norwegian Karsten Warholm clocked 45.94 seconds and thus also improved his own record of 46.70 seconds.

But why have so many records fallen? In an article published on August 6, 2021, NewScientist magazine interviewed Laura Healey, head of the innovation department of the German brand Puma. In addition to the immense preparation that athletes undergo, records can also fall thanks to tip technologiesthat is, the shoes that the participants equip.

sprint athlete shoes
Credits: semeyas/Pixabay

The shoes, but also the job!

Today, the technology used to make these shoes gives the best possible grip is much like the one already present in the shoes of marathon runners. A study published in 2019 by the University of Colorado at Boulder (USA) indicated that the Nike Vaporfly shoe in use since 2017 offers the opportunity for distance runners to save 4% energy compared to runners wearing conventional shoes. The secret ? The carbon fiber, which combines softness and solidarity, thus makes it possible to hold the track effectively and give the best possible rebounds. According to Laura Healey, the contribution of these shoes is not easy to quantify, but it is very real.

Shoe designers strive to minimize the amount of energy absorbed by the foam in the soles. The shoe models were restored during the Tokyo Olympics between 80 and 90% of this energy. However, there is a downside. Since the amount of energy lost when flexing the toes is reduced, the shoes require more resistance from the athletes at the ankles. It is therefore not excluded that in the near future the only problems multiply.

Apart from training and the technologies equipping the shoes, the track would also play an important role. The Mondo company, which designed the track for the new National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, conducted three years of research. The aim was to find solutions for a better shock absorption and greater energy return. According to Mondo, the track can theoretically improve sports results by 2.9% compared to a conventional track. In fact, this progression would be: closer to 2%which is already huge.