From Olympic and world records down to Parkruns Vaporfly’s sole technology thrives at the expense of a sport’s soul
There was a guy at Parkrun the weekend before last wearing a pair of lime-green Vaporflys on the start line. At least he looked suitably sheepish about it – pointedly ignoring the sharp whispers, the discreet pointing, the gentle ribbing from his running club mates. With its clownish platform heels and lurid alien colour scheme, the Vaporfly is not a shoe for blending into the crowd. Even in a field of 600 anonymous runners the eye is always going to be drawn to the one wearing what looks like a mutant tropical fish on each foot. The race began and off he streaked: a blur of lime-green disappearing into the distance, leaving the rest of us, with our boring reasonably-priced shoes and sniggering moral judgments, in his dust.
Of course, it’s easy to scoff when the stakes are minuscule. Turning up for your local Saturday morning fun run in £250 space-age trainers: objectively very funny, and largely analogous to the guy who wears his Lionel Messi astro boots to Wednesday five-a-side (and leaves with several painful stud-shaped indentations in his ankle). What happens, though, when the stakes are far higher? When the prize is an Olympic gold medal, when the audience is global, when the margins are life-changing? Should it matter what shoes the competitors are wearing? And if not, why not?