Climate change and science in athletes preparation for Tokyo 2020 Olympics

By Professor
Rachael Irving

Sunday, October 20, 2019

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Since 2008 runners wearing Nike Vaporfly 4% TM shoes have broken world records over 100km, marathon, half-marathon and 15km.

In October, 2019, Nike went further with Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge. Wearing the advanced Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% shoes in Vienna, Austria, he became the first man in history to break two hours. In a marathon run dubbed the INES159 Challenge, Nike used aero engineers to assemble a cast of 42 elite runners in a flying V formation around Kipchoge. The runners entered the race at a specific time. Nike also stabilised his circadian rhythm by minimising the time zone effect on Kipchoge.

The race was set on a day when the temperature started at 9 degrees Celsius and ended at 11 degrees Celsius. The shoes he wore reduced the pressure on his ankle joints, increasing foot efficiency and propulsion. Soon after in Chicago, Brigid Kosgei, wearing a similar Vaporfly, set a world record for the female marathon, shaving 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe's previous record set in 2017. Nike had hand-picked Kipcloge, the Olympic champion, Zersenay Tadese, the half-marathon world record holder, and Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa for the initial breaking two hours attempt. Kipchoge did 2.02.57 hours then. He beat the world record but did not break two hours.

The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) rule 14.3.2 stipulates that shoes must not give or be constructed to give an unfair advantage or assistance. Athletes are asking for an investigation of the shoes. That is a sideline however. In 2017, I was in London before the World Championships. I was invited to watch Avator training of elite athletes.

Previously, I was told that Justin Gatlin was adding Avator training to his routine as this was necessary as the athlete ages. I laughed, as I insisted that no Avator training would allow Gatlin to beat even a sick Bolt. I sat in the stands at the World Championships and told my English counterparts that there is no way one of their college students could get in the final of the 200m for men and Warren Weir and Yohan Blake would be eliminated. I know we are genetically predisposed. Actinin 3 gene is naturally in our fast twitch muscles.

God could not have blessed us more. We saw what happened with climate change in Doha when only 58.8 per cent of the female athletes for the marathon finished the race, the temperature was 32.2 degrees Celsius and humidity 73.3 per cent.

Fedrick Dacres said the temperature burned his skin when he went outside. The International Olympic Committee has formed an emergency adverse temperature effect working group to protect the athletes who will participate in Japan in 2020.

We have done well in Doha, but the time has come for more science to be used in Jamaica athletic development programmes. Surely we can collect the data and ask Nike to develop something that will make it easier for Elaine Thompson to excel even with the recurring foot injury. Omar McLeod can have an exoskeleton for his arm created from bio-sports material. This can be used to contain him in his lane in the hurdles.

Note: Rachael Irving is a professor of biochemistry and sport science at the Faculty of Medical Sciences UWI, Mona.


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