Like many famous people in the art of the marathon, John Treacy watched the Tokyo results last Sunday with some disbelief. Not just because Treacy once raced in Tokyo himself – although he still harbors slight disbelief about that as well – but more the unprecedented depth and quality of the moments that presented themselves in a way or another.
Led at home in 2:04:15 by Ethiopian Birhanu Legese, the top 17 all ran under 2:08 for the first time in marathon history, with Japan’s Suguru Osako bettering his national record to 2: 05:29 in fourth position.
The top 28 all ran in under 2:10, while women’s winner Lonah Salpeter clocked a course record of 2:17:45. Already this year, the Dubai and Seville marathons had set records with the top 14 men running under 2:08, before the spring marathon season really kicked off, and unlike Berlin or Rotterdam, Tokyo didn’t is not a traditionally fast marathon course.
Upon closer inspection, Treacy’s disbelief was quickly explained – and turned into some inner rage. Among the top 30 men in Tokyo, 28 wore the Nike Vaporfly, either the Next% or the new Alphafly model released a few days before. Such shoe technology may have been approved by World Athletics under their updated rules earlier this year, only Treacy isn’t buying it – times or depth or rule.
“It goes against the whole grain, in terms of the essence of the sport, the fairness of the sport, and I find it very difficult to understand,” Treacy says.
“In my opinion, and this is perhaps the traditional approach, the essence of athletics is human performance, the human body competing against another human body. Essentially, equipment shouldn’t come into play, whether it’s the 100m, the long jump or the marathon. It should be about training, dedication, hard work, all of it.
“This is the very reason why drug use in our sport is messing up everything, and why there is such outrage every time an athlete is found guilty of doping. To be fair to World Athletics, I think they have a very good integrity unit in place and they are doing a great job on that front.
“But here we have a shoe that’s made to improve marathon performance by whatever it is three to four percent, or three or four minutes into the marathon. Basically, a piece of equipment that allows them to run faster.
“I call it ‘bouncy-bouncy’, running three or four minutes faster than they normally would. To me, that undermines the integrity of the sport, and I think World Athletics made a mistake, no only giving the advantage, which I think is unfair, but putting other runners at a disadvantage if they don’t wear this shoe, and I think it needs to be reviewed, urgently.
It’s been 30 years since Treacy raced in Tokyo, where he ran 2:11:23 to finish second to Japan’s Takeyuki Nakayama, in disbelief that Treacy never saw him out front, and briefly believed he had won.
Treacy’s Irish marathon record is the 2:09:15 he ran finishing third in Boston in 1988, his 2:09:56 when he won silver at the Los Angeles Olympic Marathon in 1984, the only other Irish sub-2:09, and Treacy absolutely believes it’s time for his record to be broken.
Last month in Seville, Kevin Seaward bettered his record by three and a half minutes, his 2:10:10 (finishing 24th) second only to Treacy, and also well inside Tokyo Olympic qualifying. By his own admission, Seaward wore a pair of Nike Vaporfly, and Treacy doesn’t blame him; the problem returns to the rule.
“Because of the way the rules are presented right now, you’d be crazy not to wear them. And the rule is wrong, as simple as that. It allowed technology to take the lead. I will be delighted when my Irish marathon record is broken, and some performances by Irish marathoners over the past few years have been excellent. But I would rather see it broken without the technology of the shoe, without the “bouncy”.
“They may be doing what’s necessary, if that’s what the rule allows, so I wouldn’t hold it against them. But World Athletics, in my opinion, got it wrong. They have very strict rules regarding the throwing and jumping events, as they cannot be considered to have an advantage. Would you like someone to throw a lighter javelin or a lighter discus? You don’t think they have gear that gives them an edge. Why would you allow it in marathon running, and maybe spike running as well? »
So would Treacy be wearing the Vaporfly if he was competing today?
“You would have to do it, you wouldn’t have a choice. You couldn’t give anyone a three-minute head start. If you’re training for the Olympic marathon, working extremely hard, you’d be crazy not to be in your shoes. But it shouldn’t be like that.
There was further evidence at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta on Sunday, the top three men were all wearing a Nike Vaporfly model. Treacy’s disbelief also dates back to when Eliud Kipchoge ran his 1:59:40 in the Nike-Ineos Marathon stunt in Vienna last October.
“I didn’t even look at it, because it didn’t mean anything. We used to look at maybe the best chemist next to them, now we’re basically saying “who’s got the best shoes?” Do we want this to be an arms race? The rule is wrong, there’s enough evidence out there now, and in my opinion, they need to do something before the Olympics.