We have so obviously entered a new historical cycle that what came before, even two days ago, no longer merits close inspection. It’s just another weigh-station on the road to So What. And the benchmarks that came before, well they have been broken into shards. 


Letesenbet Gidey’s 29:01.03 women’s 10,000-meter world record today (8June 2021) in Hengelo at the Ethiopian Olympic Trials didn’t just erase Sifan Hassan’s 29:06.82 on the same track at the FBK Games two days ago but knocked 1/2 a second off Emil Zatopek’s 29:01.60 10,000m men’s WR from November 1953! Wake me when today’s women rub the great Czech’s final mark of 28:54 from 1 June 1954 off the books. At least now we can calculate the gap between men and women over 6.2 miles as 68 years, meaning the women’s world record will eclipse Joshua Cheptegei’s current men’s mark of 26:11 in 2088. 

Everyone loves a new world record, and Gidey is one smooth operator, but when times begin dropping faster than a peregrine falcon on the wing, it can begin to look a little funny. But this is what happens when, as a practical matter, regulators become too entwined with the industry they were created to regulate. First, they allow (or are asleep) as the innovators get way ahead of any oversight. Then, after records come tumbling down and the regulators get called out, they fudge the regulations ex post facto to accept that which ought to have been regulated in the first place by setting standards that fall into line with the established innovations. 

God knows the engines of athletes haven’t changed, nor their training, their will, or their fuel – previous generations were fooling around with too much exogenous octane, too, remember. Since 2016 only the equipment has changed, and it’s made all past comparisons moot.

Remember when Wang Junxia staggered us with her 29:31 10,000-meter world record in Beijing in 1993 off Coach Ma‘s turtle soup-fueled training (wink, wink, nod, nod)?  That massive record broke Ingrid Kristiansen‘s 30:13.74 from Olso in 1986 and held until Almaz Ayana’s eye-popping 28:17.45 at the Rio Games in 2016. Major League Baseball lost connection to its rich history during their Steroid Era. Now athletics is losing its past due to their Super Shoe Era. At least we can hope for a whale of a competition between Hassan and Gidey in Tokyo where the times won’t mean a damn thing. 



  1. Slight typo: Almaz Ayana was 29:17, not 28:17.
    Also, times for the Olympic women’s 10,000 might actually matter. For anyone to take the kick out of Hassan they could need to run sub 29 to do so, just a thought.

  2. If the advancement in shoe technology had produced only marginal improvements, no one would have blinked, and therefore it seems as if people are blaming shoe companies (particularly Nike, but every major shoe company by now has come out with a “super shoe” of their own), shoe designers, and shoe R&D of simply being too good at their jobs.

    I also note that high altitude performances were not banned after the 1968 Olympics and the records produced by Bob Beamon, Lee Evans, et al.

    1. Greg,

      Improvements available to all competitors (like track surfaces) are understandable. And even shoe improvements regulated by governing bodies until they are available to everyone, are also acceptable. It’s when one company (which has an outsized influence on the sport) is allowed to get ahead of the rest, after which significant records are set and only then do regulators come into play and essentially backdate the innovations, do people question the records.

      Now everyone has the super shoes, but this should’ve been done in a much more regulated fashion. That’s the issue. Thanks for joining the discussion.


  3. Thanks for speaking to this truth, Toni. Never have I been so dismayed by the setting of world records. The sport I love and have given 46 years of my life to has morphed into a zero sum, unrecognizable race to the bottom.

  4. Nice write-up Toni. I see a lot of people looking at these times and pointing at drugs. That is a possibility of course, but I tend to think the shoes are the primary reason. (I think pacing lights have been a big help – but that’s for another debate). Performance enhancing drugs have been around for decades and we have never had the unprecedented dismantling of records the way we have had post 2016 (road) and 2020 (track). Which coincides with the release of the supershoes (road) and superspikes (track). I’m on the pro-shoe side of the debate to be clear. I love my Vaporflys and Alphaflys. But I think we can’t pretend they aren’t a huge game changer. Yes technology always moves on and improves over time but this has development has proved to be too good an improvement, in a single bound, such that we are now seeing uncomfortably big leaps in performance rather than the incremental styled progress of previous tech advances.

    1. Very well reasoned argument. Advances should come into the sport through exhibitions like Kipchoge’s two Sub-2 hour runs. Then be evaluated for inclusion in actual competition when those innovations are seen as in line with the spirit of the sport and if made available across a wide enough spectrum so not to advantage just a few. The availability is there now, but I still wonder about the spirit of the sport. Thanks for chiming in.


    2. Other factors for faster times are training techniques. As more is learned coaching and training advances. Letesenbet Gidey was junior XC champion and has just gotten better and better since then. Lights and shoes are a huge benefit but her dedication and hard work best not be overlooked.

  5. Wondering if there’s “something” going around that’s undetectable…..more than shoes. If it seems too good to be true….

    I’ve always had some skepticism of Hassan with her Salazar connection.

  6. Great write-up as always, Toni. The only “eye-popping typo” that I am compelled to point out (and for all readership, really ought to be sanely corrected)… is my heroine Almaz Ayana’s Rio time: correction from 28:17.45 to 29:17.45!!!
    Cheers…Iyob Tessema

  7. This ‘shoes are the same as steroids’ is rather ridiculous. The reason for banning steroids is because there are serious health risks. No one’s health is threatened by racing in the Nike shoes.

    Also the argument the records are moving too fast is rather lame. So these shoes would be fine in 20 years, assuming the sport still exists, but not now because of some nonexistent connection with the past that hardly anyone cares about anymore.

    Like Mondo tracks are much faster than cinders, it’s a new era and it just the excitement the sport needs.

    What would you actually ban? Carbon fiber track shoes have been around for years….thick soles shoes like Hokas for ages. So Nike actually used science and research to come up with a more efficient shoe on a model that has been around awhile and that somehow is really awful. With that kind of thinking we would still be using steel pole vault poles.

    1. “we have never had the unprecedented dismantling of records the way we have had post 2016 (road) and 2020 (track). …”.
      Really ? Ron Clarke, Haile Gebrselassie and Ingrid Kristiansen might disagree with you. Records in most events have undergone short periods of major revision, followed by long static periods. Having said that, I’m 60 years old, acquired a pair of Dragonflys and I’m running faster in them than last year 🙂 They definitely make a difference even to me.

      1. Ditto. I just turned 59 and bought a pair of Saucony “Endorphin Speed”. They take a bit of getting used to but WOW.

        I feel 10 years younger!

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