Second best

Michael Dowd thinks Nike was a little slow off the blocks when it decided to produce a shoe built for the high street as well as the running track

When three of the hot favourites in the 100m sprint in last year’s World Championships – all three posting the fastest recorded starting times out of the blocks in the heats – were subsequently disqualified for false starts in the finals, I wonder whether faster spiked shoes should be a priority in today’s athletics speed events.

Having watched the event wrecked while Dwain Chambers threw a wobbly and the BBC commentator sighed at the ruination of his prime-time entertainment as Jon Drummond and Kelli White also removed their spikes, my vote for spending the athletics research budget goes to spikes that attach to the starting blocks until the pistol goes off.

Do sponsors really need to tell athletes what shoes to wear? I won’t mention David Beckham’s penalty miss. At the previous World Championships, after four false starts in the final, Olympic silver medallist Ato Boldon only managed fourth place, as he claimed officials wouldn’t let him use his own shoes, and the only sponsored shoes available were a size too small.

As for Nike’s new Monster Fly spikes, what a drag! The weight of the shoes (6.8oz) is given in the press release, but not the drag coefficient. I suspect that even a re-programmed Michael Schumacher would have trouble getting off the grid. When athletes are shaving off all their body hair and wrapping their lunch boxes in Lycra in the interests of improving their aerodynamics, what possessed Nike to create the first engineered wind trap under its new shoes?

Mercury – or Quicksilver to cite his brand name – being the Greek god of speed with his winged sandals, no doubt had an influence over the choice of silver as the colour for the spiked undercarriage of the shoes. Perhaps the pursuit of Olympic gold might have given a more ambitious clue in this choice.

Assuming our athlete gets away from the blocks in Athens, he or she will be running on the soles of their feet for all of the dash to the line. I leave it to a sports physiotherapist to tell us if the rigid sole plate helps transfer force from the sole of the foot to the leg. Until then it will take a lot of persuading to convince me that the silvery-white design was created to boost athletic performance rather than high street sales.

Having given the shoes a run out, I was surprised to find the spikes had collected a fair amount of dirt. Instead of the traditional single spike, there are mini-clusters. I am reminded of this summer’s clay court tennis championships, where players were banging the soles of their shoes with their rackets to dislodge clay. You wonder how athletes will clean their spikes with no racket to whack them with – another worry for the starting line.

Are the Monster Flys comfortable? Yes, and there is a wonderful rush of cool air through the upper’s vents. Mind you, the old-fashioned laces are just another worry. As the starter calls ‘on your marks’ and the athlete drops into the starting blocks and prepares to launch forward, you can imagine them thinking: ‘Did my mother say a granny knot or a reef knot? Good job I did a bow knot so I can get out of my spikes quickly and do a runner before the urine test after my false start.’

Michael Dowd is a designer and a former 100m athlete

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