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SCALING HURDLES

A Nigerian is now the fastest female hurdler ever, partly due to long-distance shoes

Kirby Lee
Nigerian runner Tobi Amusan broke the record for the 100m hurdles event of the World Athletics Championships. She had set the previous record in the semi-final.
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On July 24, Nigerian runner Tobi Amusan set one world record in the semi finals of the 100m hurdles event of the World Athletics Championships and then broke it in the final, bagging a $100,000 reward and immortality as the first Nigerian to be a world athletics champion.

Standing on the winners’ podium after receiving her gold medal, Amusan could not hold back tears while her country’s national anthem played. It was the ultimate fulfillment of a personal dream to one day be unforgettable. She has lived and trained in the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), benefitting from the Miners’ sports programs that have produced athletes for Olympic games, but her victory resounded in Nigeria as the accomplishment of a hero who has won against all odds. Only last August, a failed electronic timer at a qualifying event organized by Nigeria’s athletics federation denied her a record.

In a twist of technological fate, Amusan is now a world champion thanks partly due to her decision to switch to different gear, to better cushion her from a previous injury.

Amusan asked Adidas for an alternative

Before now, 25-year old Amusan’s roll of honor in 100m hurdles included a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth games and finishing fourth at the Tokyo Olympics last year, in addition to multiple medals from African games. But she wasn’t necessarily in the best shape coming into her world championship winning race in Oregon.

“I had patella fasciitis at the beginning of the season so that set me back for a while,” Amusan said, describing a condition that affects sprinters when they stress the kneecap during jumps. “I spoke to Adidas and requested if I could get spikes with a softer sole.”

Adidas’s choice for her was the Adizero Avanti, per the Guardian, a shoe designed for 5km and 10km runners. The shoes, which are within the athletics body’s rules that sprint soles must not be higher than 20mm, may have made Amusan more comfortable in scaling her hurdles. She ran the final in 12.06 seconds, bettering her semi final world record of 12.12.

The rise of super shoes, as equipment like these are called, have coincided with more record times in track events. Somewhat controversial and pioneered by Nike, proponents say it is simply the latest episode of technology being used to enhance performance in ways that are accessible and fair to every athlete. And so such technology should not be cited to diminish the accomplishments of athletes who work relentlessly to break records. Amusan wasn’t the only hurdler breaking a record in a super shoe this weekend: Sydney McLaughlin, an American, broke the women’s 400m record in New Balance shoes.

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