The Telegraph recently ran an article referring to the Nike prototype shoes worn by Olympic heptathlete champion Nafi Thiam and Swedish long jumper Thobias Montler, both jumping personal bests, the latter to take long jump silver. The fact that Thiam has jumped 19 centimetres further indoors and 26 centimetres outdoors, albeit not in a Pentathlon, was strangely omitted. It didn’t fit the point. Athletics’ eternal arms race has entered the jumps. But what’s the reality? Are we really witnessing a new age for jumping, one where long standing records get destroyed at the drop of a hat? Here we aim to decipher the stats behind the prototypes and what we should be looking for in 2022.Embed from Getty Images
With the shoes (Nike’s Long Jump Elite seen above) being submitted for approval on 13th February Nike athletes have, in theory been able to wear them in competition since then. That brings three significant competitions, The Madrid World Indoor Tour, The European Indoor Champs and the NCAA Champs, three of the most important events this season on the indoor calendar. Like always Nike athletes feature heavily in the top ten times of the year.
In the Euro Indoors, all of the medalists in the women’s long jump were Nike athletes, though not a single one wore the prototype, all instead preferring to wear the Nike Zoom Long Jump 4. Of the men two Adidas athletes sandwiched Montler’s headline grabbing jump.
Now not wearing the prototypes could indicate two things. One that the prototype isn’t available for all Nike athletes or simply that the athletes preferred to wear others. The first argument doesn’t hold much value in my eyes. Why would Montler, Euro Indoors silver medalist in 2019 be given the prototype by Nike and not World silver medilist Maryna-Bekh Romanchuk andWorld Champion Malaika Mihambo? More likely athletes chose against it and there’s a pretty simple reason why.Embed from Getty Images
Athletes will not be allowed to wear the prototype in the Olympics, with approval for shoes to be worn in the World Championships and Olympics not to be given, if it is at all, until after end of the development phase in Feb 2022. Cycling through shoes this close to the Olympics would be a challenge, especially in an event that values rhythm and pattern more than perhaps others.
Quite rightly this argument assumes that the Olympics is the pinnacle, that all actions taken prior to the event are done with the objective of performing in Tokyo. It is a reasonable one to carry.
Though granted that for athletes the Olympics will always be the ulitmate goal, success at other competitions is still important and indeed can be an athlete’s breakthrough. If the new prototype gives such a step-change then why not wear them, especially if as many would attest you are at a disadvantage by not doing so. In Torun was this the ultimate game theory in which all women, each from different countries, all chose to give up the advantage and the sanctity of the competition was preserved? Perhaps, but there are other reasons that could make more sense.
Maybe, just maybe the shoes don’t and won’t make quite the difference critics would love to allege. The facts remain that what we have seen so far is one athlete in Thiam who has jumped far further in her career and another in Montler who has made a 14cm improvment having just turned 25.
When we look at the data and the top ten times seen over the last five indoor seasons (so we could include the last Olympic cycle) what we get instead is a less than conclusive image. The prototype was available in the NCAA’s, a competition which retains crucial importance for college athletes and their hopes of turning pro, athletes who have consistently over the last five years posted distances which regularly make the world’s top ten. In addition its availability for the Euro Indoors, Copernicus Cup and World Indoor Tour in Madrid cannot be outright dismissed.
Long Jump (Men)
|Average Top Ten Athlete Jumps||8.28||8.18||8.16||8.27||8.13||8.23|
The top ten jumps for men in 2021 show a slight increase in distance though not something we could describe a statistically significant.
|Sponsor||Name||Age||Have they jumped further prior to this season?||Was their performance after 13th Feb?|
|6||Puma||Juan Miguel Echevarria||22||Yes||No|
Of these top ten jumps, six were done by Nike athletes, only one of which has jumped further in previous seasons. That said all those athletes were under the age of 25 and one of the five jumped the distance prior to the release of the prototype.
Long Jump (Women)
|Average Top Ten Athlete Jumps||6.83||6.80||6.76||6.80||6.86||6.92|
As can be seen for the women 2020/21 ranks as only the third longest across the six indoor seasons.
|Sponsor||Athlete Name||Age||Have they jumped further prior to 2021?||Was their performance after 13th Feb?|
|Under Armour||Ruth Usoro||23||No||Yes|
|Under Armour||Monae’ Nichols||Unsure but still at College||No||No|
|Not prototypes||Nastassia Mironchyk-Ivanova||31||Yes||No|
Of the top ten jumps, six were made by Nike athletes. Only one of these, Tara Davis, has not jumped further prior to this season. As we discussed 2,4 and 5 on the list did not, however, wear the prototype.
Triple Jump (Men)
|Average Top Ten Athlete Jumps||17.27||17.19||17.25||17.24||17.18||17.08|
2020/2021 represented a marginal increase in the top ten average jumps, skewed somewhat by Hugues Fabrice Zango’s monster leap, the longest across all five indoor seasons. Zango is a Nike athlete but made the jump prior to the release of the prototype.
Triple Jump (Women)
|Average Top Ten Athlete Jumps||14.45||14.46||14.60||14.37||14.33||14.29|
The 2020/21 period represents the third longest in the last six years but 2019/2020 is admittedly skewed by Yulimar Rojas’s indoor world record from Madrid. That said there does not seem any indication that the prototype has had a significant effect on this years indoor season.
Nike’s Long Jump Elite have so far been used infrequently in competition and that reasoning is that it doesn’t make sense in an Olympic year. That said the prototype has been used in limited measure and in none of the Jump events have we yet noted a significant effect on the top 10 distances.
2022 will provide a better picture but we must not ignore the reality of what has happened this year. Athletes chose against wearing the prototypes. There is not yet the belief among them that this really is the step change some want to bemoan. Let’s wait and see, put stats to the test and try some objectivity. Have a little faith.
Featured image “Long Jump” by Hermitianta P. Putra is licensed under CC BY 2.0