Time differences in 200 and 400-meter sprints are very small and athletes often win by margins of milliseconds. Therefore, they are always on the look for any small advantage they can get to squeeze the very last millisecond out of their running times to help surpass the competition. A new trend that professional sprinters are embracing is super-lightweight sprinting shoes with spikes on the sole. The spikes of these shoes give the runner a firmer footing and more control that allows them to push off modestly faster while the minimized weight of the upper part of the shoe will increase the overall chances of the runner against the competition.
But the track’s curve is usually where these short races are lost or won, and the true test for these high-tech shoes is to help the runner to better navigate and use the curve to his/her advantage.
Allyson Felix, American gold medal winner in women’s 200 meters at 2012 Olympics in London, hopes to extend her success to 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, by an extensive collaboration with Nike that has produced the perfect pair of sprinting shoes imaginable for her.
Nike’s engineering and design experience in the sports industry in combination with Felix’ professional insights and needs for a cutting edge shoe have created a historical venture that will hopefully create the required sprinting spikes, which will enable her to catapult herself to the next Olympic gold medal.
The Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit combines substantial data-driven analysis by Nike’s Sports Research Lab, computational design by its designers and pixel-level manufacturing from engineers of Nike Flyknit. The close collaboration of Felix and her entire team of trainers and coaches with Nike’s engineers and designers made a high end sprinting shoe possible that is exactly developed to Allyson Felix’ biomechanics and individual specifications.
“One of the things that I love about the process is that I’m not an expert in this, but I have all this science behind me. This is what [Nike] does and this is what they’re passionate about. I can have confidence that they’re going to give me the best equipment,” Felix said.
The shoe is essentially constructed of 2 parts that make use of different technologies. The upper part is made with Nike’s Flyknit technology that is a combination of cutting edge techniques for shoe production that avoid the creation of any non-vital features, reducing the weight of a standard running shoe by more than the half of an average sprinting shoe. The spiked sole of the shoe is 3D printed with conventional rapid prototyping techniques. In fact, throughout the design, research, and development process, over 30 iterations of the spike plate were rapid prototyped, using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printers. The first test fitting session took place in May 2014, where Felix met with the Nike team to test the first prototype. Thanks to fast iterations, the team was able to swiftly make small adjustments based on Felix’ feedback to easily deliver the next rapid prototype for testing. The result is a bespoke spiked sole that is exactly matched with Felix’ desired flexibility, stiffness, and pop. Needless to say, the sole is the first of its kind that extends to three-quarter height, providing for a better grip and more speed while running curves.
“Our role in the Innovation Kitchen is to invent the future of performance innovation for athletes. We do that with a mission to make athletes better. In this work with Allyson, the product that has been created is making her measurably better. We’re seeing faster times in practice, more efficiency through and exiting the curb as well as unprecedented feedback from Allyson. We cannot wait to see how she performs in the spike throughout the coming months,” explained the VP of Footwear Innovation at Nike, Tony Bignell.
I can imagine how excited some of you may have become about getting your own pair of bespoke high tech sprinting shoes like Allyson Felix, but as hard as it may be, I have to say that this was just a one-time design for America’s current best 200-meter runner. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Nike used this opportunity to study how to make better running shoes and the lessons learned from the sessions with Felix will be invested into a future pair of running shoes that everyone will be able to buy.
However, according to Nike, in the near future sports shoes will be 3D printed and thanks to rapid prototyping techniques, bespoke running shoes will be common place. Till then, we have to cross fingers and wish Felix the best, while she hopefully brings another gold medal home. For herself, and may be for Nike’s designers and 3D printers.
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