Hurdles world records are getting smashed in Tokyo, but not because of the track or the spikes
TOKYO - After almost every race here, a member of the European press has asked top medal contestants or medalists a variation of the same question: They say this is such a fast track - is it like running on air?
"Well, I've never run on air," joked the Norwegian long hurdler Karsten Warholm.
The pavement of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo was manufactured and installed by the Italian company Mondo, which was commissioned to build Olympic tracks. It spent three years developing the track for Tokyo, trying different types of surfaces and asking runners to test the different versions that came out of it. The end result was a surface that gives athletes back energy and has some shock absorption.
But, as apparently suggested, is the surface the reason some athletes run so fast?
So far, two world records have been set on the track, but both are from the same people who already had the record in their event. On Tuesday, Warholm broke the 400-meter hurdle record he set on July 1, and on Wednesday, Sydney McLaughlin crushed the 400-meter hurdle record she first broke in June.
Warholm ran largely alone in that previous race, winning by seven tenths of a second, and it was his first hurdles race in 2021. It stands to reason that he faced his greatest challenger, American Rai Benjamin, the second fastest man of all time in this case would Warholm run faster because he was pushed by his closest contemporary.
McLaughlin and her American Dalilah Muhammad had broken and reset the world record in the past three encounters, and knowing that the other was working for their own benefit made both women better.
"It really is an iron that sharpens iron," said McLaughlin. "You need someone who can make you do your best and I think that's what we do so well."
Gold medalist Sydney McLaughlin (right) and silver medalist Dalilah Muhammad broke the world record over 400 hurdles not only because of the route or their spikes. (REUTERS / Hannah Mckay)
Olympic records were set by Elaine Thompson-Herah over 100 and Jasmine Camacho-Quinn over 100 hurdles, along with numerous area records, national records and lifetime bests.
Lots of things beyond the track have helped make this the Olympics in the first place. Much like professional athletes in other sports, elite track and field athletes have access to teams of people - coaches, coaches, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, sports psychologists - all of whom carefully create plans and schedules to ensure that the runners are and will be in the best possible physical shape for this meeting be able to do their best.
If, as Andrea Vallauri from Mondo says, the track surface gives runners 2 percent back, why weren't the times for the men's 10,000 meters, the longest race of the meeting, faster? Winner Selemon Barega from Ethiopia ran almost 90 seconds or over 3 seconds per lap over the 25-lap race, slower than the current world record. And the man who holds that record, Joshua Cheptegei from Uganda, was in the race and finished second.
The surface certainly didn't help the American Tray von Bromell. Bromell came to Tokyo as a gold medal favorite in the 100 after running the two fastest times of the year (9.77 and 9.80 seconds) and not even reaching the final, 10.05 seconds on his first run and 10 flat in its semifinals.
The hot temperatures in Tokyo, which can be a plus for sprinters, but can also be a burden for long-distance runners, could play a role - although it is also unclear how much here.
There was also talk of the new ultra-modern Nike racing spikes, which are worn by some runners and have a carbon fiber plate, but also thin air ducts or responsive foam. Benjamin wore the vented spikes, and without naming his rival, Warholm questioned them.
"I don't see why you should put something under a sprint shoe," he said. “In the middle distance, I can understand it because of the cushioning. If you want cushioning, you can put a mattress there. "
Warholms Spikes, the development of which he and his trainer supervised, are a partnership between Puma and the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team. He had no problem with his own shoes.
Benjamin wanted the athletes to be recognized for their achievements.
"[The Track] has a lot of give in, don't get me wrong, it's a phenomenal track. People say it's the track, it's shoes. I'll wear different shoes and still run fast," he said. "Honestly it doesn't matter. The shoe has some efficiency, don't get me wrong, and it's nice to have a good track, but no one in history is going to go out there and do what we do" did it right now , always."
Another question worth considering: Even if the route contributes to faster times in some ways, does that matter? Technology and improvements are made all the time. Should athletes run on ashes and jump in sawdust forever?
It feels like an attempt to discredit what these athletes have done and are doing. Except for Lamont Marcell Jacobs, the men's 100 winner, there have been no winners out of nowhere; Almost all athletes who came to Tokyo and are considered the best of their competitions have shown why that is so.
The best thing about athletics is that athletes at every level can see their improvement in black and white. Your times get faster, your throws further, your jumps higher or further. Everyone here walks the same route, uses the same runways, and if there's an advantage to the surface everyone has it.
Let's just guess the size.
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Norwegian athletics competitor
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