Managing Technological Advancement in the Ecosystem of Sport
- Welcome, all right welcome all welcome to the University of Michigan's exercise and sports science initiative, seminar series. We are today gonna be discussing how we manage technological advancement in the ecosystem of sports. So I'm Geoff Burns. I'm a postdoctoral research fellow here at U of M.
I study sports science and specifically focus on running. So today the seminar is really, it's gonna be a panel discussion. We have representatives from swimming, cycling, running from perspectives across the landscape of a sport, from the athlete, media, industry and regulatory bodies. So we are going to be let's see all right seeing if the video there went through. (tranquil music) All right.
Welcome all, welcome to the University of Michigan's exercise and sports science initiatives monthly seminar series in sports science. Today, we are gonna be talking about managing technological advancement in the ecosystem of sports. We're gonna be getting perspectives from a diversity of sports, cycling, running, swimming across the landscape of the sports themselves from media perspective, athletes, coaching, federations and industry themselves. So I'm your host Geoff Burns. I'm a post-doctoral research fellow here at University of Michigan. I studied sports science focused on running so I will be leading the charge.
So just kinda to give you some background on this topic and the motivation for it. We are gonna be looking at how equipment affects our sport. And a lot of times this conversation centers around or is focused on how equipment affects performance.
But what I wanna get at today is how equipment changing performance changes the sport. And so we will, we'll unpack that again from those different perspectives hopefully in different sports. So the motivation and inspiration for all of this comes from a recent upheaval that we had in the sport of running. And that's again, in my focus, my specialty just background on that for the audience. We had running was a sport that was relatively minimalist when it came to equipment we just had basically just had shoes.
For many decades shoes didn't affect performance that much when it came to racing, it was largely as light as possible with a little bit of cushioning. And that was it, on the roads and tracks. Then in 2017, Nike released a shoe called the vapor fly. That was a big deviation from normal running shoes. It had this new foam that was very thick and it had a carbon fiber plate in it, and it significantly shifted performance made runners more efficient.
They could run faster for a given effort. And again, as soon as it was released in 2017 over the next two years, we saw every record on the roads being rewritten from 5K to 100K. And then up and down the boards performances, all time lists shifting, even athletes on the grassroots level, personal bests left and right. So it really shook up the sport and it caused, this kind of crisis in a sport whose value proposition or identity was physiology distilled, a very simplicity. And so this was kind of a big injection of engineering into the sport. So that again, rippled throughout across all levels.
And one of the the challenges that the sport faced was that was very lopsided and for several years, 2017 and '18 there was no other company that really had another piece of equipment shoes to match Nike's. So on a professional side, it was pretty lopsided. And then that was confounded by the world athletics, the governing body not having a regulatory strategy. They, the only regulations on the equipment of the sport the shoes was that they could not provide unfair assistance or advantage.
So that was the rule. There's no definition of what that unfair assistance or advantage was. So it created just this crisis within the sport of people saying like, "It's not breaking any rules." On second well, there are no rules. And then other people saying it's compromising the heritage of the sport. Other people being excited about the, how fast they could run in them.
So there's just all these tensions affecting the culture of the sport. So in that absence of regulation one of the things that, I along with one of my colleagues, we published a piece in the British journal of sports medicine and editorial, calling for world athletics to regulate shoes and to do so, in a way to compromise between allowing for innovation. But also stabilizing the performances so we can bring the focus back on athletes.
So what we did was we suggested we regulate running shoes based on their thickness, the thickness of the soles. So allow innovation within that. And a few months later in early 2020 world athletics finally put down a set of rules defining the equipment of the sport, the running shoes. And they among other things, they adopted that idea of limiting the thickness of the shoes.
So running shoes are now 40 millimeters thick 'cause the maximum. And then they've also restricted the number of plates that can be in the shoes and some other features. So now we have the regulations in place at the beginning of last year, but it's still kind of unfolded the rippled throughout the sport of what that means in terms of, recalibrating our performances and also moving to the track.
That's a whole new thing that the sport is now dealing with especially you're going in the last couple months. I've seen the technology from the roads being implemented in track shoes. So we have the regulations, but we're now in this second phase of kind of readjusting to the new tech.
So one of the things that through this whole saga I kept scratching my head at was how running the sport that I love it felt like so many of these conversations were getting siloed in the sports owned idiosyncrasies. And ignoring other sports that have gone through this same thing or not ignoring, not learning of the nuance that they went through. So you notably one that that's always called to mind is swimming in tech suits in 2009. We have Stu here to talk about that.
So then another sport that constantly deals with this is cycling, where we always have new tech coming out and there's a constant push and pull of regulation, that's continually being updated. And then again, through all of this, a lot of crossover, but a lot of nuance to each one that I think we can learn from each other and then maybe extend that to all sports. So we can really kind of understand how to balance that tension between physiology and technology. So with that, we'll get started, again we'll do some introductions here.
Myself I'll be moderating it again my name is Geoff Burns. I, my background is I was an engineering student here at the university of Michigan. I did my bachelor's and master's in biomedical engineering, ran on the cross-country and track team here, worked for several years as an engineer and then came back to do my PhD here at Michigan. And I did my PhD in kinesiology focusing on running biomechanics.
And I also compete internationally as an ultra marathon runner. A USA national champion over 100 kilometers. So I have feet in both worlds as scientist, researcher as well as souls and athlete.
And then our three panelists. Again, we have a Stu Isaac from the swimming world, Larry Moore Bass from the cycling world and Sarah Lords Butler from the running world. And yeah, we'll let each of them tell us a little bit about themselves and we'll dive into the background each of their sports. So kicking off with Stu. - Thank you, Geoff.
As he mentioned, I have a background in swimming. I swam at the University of Michigan was an All-American here and then coached the women's team in the early days of title nine from 1974 to 1983. Then I moved into the really the school work industry working with Speedo where I rose to be a head of sports marketing team sales. But I was very involved throughout that process in the development of the swimming tech suits.
As part of this, then I segwayed into the consulting market as many of us do later in our careers. And I had the opportunity to consult with USA swimming in recent developments where they've taken rules further and restrict the use of the students for age group swimmers and help develop the research behind that and develop the rules. So I'm having a chance to really be part of the whole process, going back to some early technological development and impact and rule changes, even when I was swimming all the way through the ongoing process to where we are here. So hopefully that will provide some insight and perhaps some historical references that are now relevant to track and field and cycling in other sports. - All right thank you, cool, Larry. Why don't you tell us a bit about yourself.
- Hi everyone. Yeah, my name is Larry Warbasse. I'm from Travis City in Michigan and I studied at University of Michigan quite a few years ago. Left to become a professional cyclist but actually re-enrolled recently. So also currently a student at the University of Michigan just a little bit distant because I live in Nice, France for cycling. So I raced for a professional cycling team a French team called AIG To Our Citron team.
And yeah, it's my ninth year as a professional. I've raced for a various number of teams always based in Europe. And yeah, I guess when it comes to equipment and technology it's something I'm really passionate about. And I have quite a bit of experience with because I've sort of lived through some of the changing of the rules and everything. So it's been interesting to see and it's definitely something that we're always, yeah I guess, chasing or battling however you wanna look at it. So yeah should be fun to talk with everyone today.
- Awesome thanks, Sarah. - Hey I'm Sarah Lorge Butler with runner's world I'm a contributing editor. I started out working for a publication called Running Times which is also owned back in the day, by the same owners of Runner's World.
Running times is great it was really focused on the front of the pack and people who took their running seriously but with all the upheaval in the media industry, running time, sadly folded. And I think it was like late 2015. I was lucky to land a job at Runner's World which really covers the gamut from, the oldest runners to the Olympians and the youngest runners too. So that's been a great place to be. I really enjoy covering the elite athletes the elite performance in sport. I got to cover the Olympics in Rio for a runner's world in 2016, I will not be going to Tokyo, unfortunately but that might turn out to be actually a blessing.
'Cause I'm hearing the media restrictions in Tokyo will be such that you wouldn't be able to fairly be able to get out of your hotel room anyway. I live in Eugene, Oregon now where Hayward field is. And so looking forward to having the Olympic track and field trials here in June.
And as a sidelight I am the editor of the fast women newsletter which comes out every Monday morning. It goes out to about 6,000 really passionate fans of women's elite distance running. So I work with Alison Wade on that and that's been just a lot of fun to see that grow and the excitement around that. - Awesome well thank you all. By the way Sarah running times is like my favorite practices so. - I know. That's empowered and I should also just wanted say that I'm the parent of a high school swimmer.
So I'm really looking forward to. - Wow. - Hearing from Stu. So we bought her, her first tech suit when she was a sophomore in high school and I mean, wow. Anyway, it was interesting to see, that whole process, but yeah it's something that, something to behold, so. - Cool well. - All right. - That's a nice segue into we'll just get some try and get some really brief backgrounds on each of that.
Maybe the equipment in these sports. Stu we've mentioned these a couple of times, the texts suits the audience who doesn't know can you give us a brief history of swimsuit development and what the tech suits were when they arrived and what it looked like? - Well, I'm gonna go back a little further than you might anticipate because there were issues rules even before we called them tech suits. Probably the major breakthrough happened in '70, 1973 to '74. That season went from nylon delight grip and it created quite a store, a stir. The week before U.S. Nationals, USA Swimming
had to make rule changes to accommodate the women's suits because it no longer had a modesty panel. And I was swimming at the time and at U.S. Nationals every single women's U.S. National record was broken probably had more impact than any of these tech suits now. But since then, beginning in about 1988, the swimwear manufacturers introduced a new technical advancement some substantive, some marketing and messaging every Olympic quadrennial.
Tech suits really began to resonate with the term tech suit in the early 2000s beginning in late 1990s the manufacturers started to broaden their use of technology from just a fabric science and government engineering to add hydrodynamics and aerodynamics and kinesiology and biomechanics. And that led to a lot of advances that were beyond just the fabric for the government engineering. There were four techs generators on students, no bumps drawing from aerospace and golf balls did balls and things like this.
That kept developing all the way through the use of computational fluid dynamics partnering with NASA, for Speedo and a lot of research. And it became much more scientific and broadened the applications of various sciences to the sport. Leading up to what, where the controversy really took off leading up the 2008 Olympics with the Speedo laser and the other equivalent suits which led to the restrictions in 2009. And now that has progressed the same restrictions but now in mid 2015, really on the it began to have a movement to limit the use of the tech suits, the high priced tech suits in age group swimming. Initially for price reasons but it really became part of our discussion later on about culture because it really determined how it was misdirecting what age groups swimmers needed to focus on in development.
So that's really speaks to the culture which I know we'll talk about a little later. So now we're at the point where not only are there international high-tech restrictions but much tighter restrictions at for example the U.S. 12 and under. But there are each group restrictions in Australia and many other of the major swimming world currently. - Interesting. So it sounds like swimming. I, and I didn't realize this swimming that's kind of had a continual push and pull on the tech. - Yeah.
- And then it was just through say like through the 90s and the 2000s was there a bit of a stabilization or did it kind of continue to hinge forward. - It really continued. To hinge forward and from that period, you can talk about late 90s through 2009, a faster progression of world records. But even more so depth if you look at the number of people that qualified for the Olympic trials in the U.S. from 2004 to 2008 we went from 1100 qualifiers to 1800 for 2008. - Wow.
- So clearly things were getting out of hand but the changers were really driven, not just by, "We're losing the integrity of our records." And that was one of the popular talking points as was, "It's costing too much. It's raising the cost of participation." But it really got down to the philosophy of development within the sport particularly for young kids and how to make sure they're not viewing this as a silver bullet. - True. - And it reviews the research I did for USA swimming.
One thing that reminded me of this a 12 year old a dad of a 12 year old came up to the coach and said, "Boy, which tech suits should I be getting my 12 year old daughter?" And the coach looked at him and said, "Damn it, forget the suit. Just get your daughter to practice on time." And that really summed up that cultural changes that like I said, I know we can address a little bit later. - Yeah interesting cool yeah. So I guess then piggybacking off of that, Larry why don't you talk to the audience about the equipment that a cyclist use? I know I heard Stu mentioned dimples and using fluid dynamics and whatnot.
Yeah why don't you talk to us about your bike and then everything else as well? - It's funny, actually Stu mentioned vortex generators and that was actually something that was banned like one or two years ago when one team came up with these special things on their skin suits and they did okay. They decided to ban vortex. - They abandoned swimming. In 2004 so yeah. - It's crazy. Yeah so that just came to cycling. And then actually they, apparently I heard got around it by wearing a skin, a base layer under the skin suit that did the same thing without being outside.
But that's another story. So yeah, I guess, I mean compared to swimming and running we'd probably have a bit more equipment because it's not just the suits. So, we have Jersey shorts or skin suits, depending on the race. We have helmets, glasses, bike, and then the bike it's the frame, the wheels, the tires. And I'm just talking about things that can really change performance. So I would say, yeah, the frame makes a small difference but wheels and tires can be huge actually in.
I guess if I was gonna split it into two things we have the time trial and we have the road race. And the time trials where you see a lot of these differences because it's individuals against the clock and aerodynamics is gigantic. So I would say most of the things that cycling is dealing with now all are in relation to aerodynamics. So yeah, I guess for when you speak about aerodynamics, it's the frame is a small part, the wheels are huge, the helmets are huge, the skin suits are huge. And then now even down to the socks, we wear a, it's like we have special aerodynamics socks and things like that. Depending on the type of shoe you wear, it can be more or less aerodynamic.
So I guess that's kind of, that's where most of the development has gone, but that's also where a lot of the regulations have moved towards too. So if we were gonna just say basic regulations it's like starts with the bike, there's there has to be two triangles. So if you look at some triathlon bikes they're not legal for us, but yeah, I guess all of those different factors have huge effects on performance.
And yeah, we're now trying to find out ways to deal with the rules that are in place and how to find the best performance within those roles so. - Interesting nice yeah. So we'll be in the next section here we'll unpack some of those regulations. - Yeah.
- Quite a popery of our dear to worry about. And then Sarah so like, I preface the whole conversation about what we dealt with in running, but really quick in your perspective on this background. What from the media perspective, what the saga of the super shoes as we might call them, starting with the Nike vapor fly? What was your understanding of them originally when we heard in 2017? And how has that evolved over the last four years? - Yeah, so I think it was May 6th, 2017 Elliud Kipchoge runs two hours and 25 seconds and Nike's breaking to attempt in Italy. I wasn't there and I wasn't part of the runners the whole team that was covering it.
At that time I was at a family wedding but I remember waking up in the hotel room and looking at my phone and being like, did he do it? And seeing how close he came, I mean, it was just amazing. And it was billed as testing, the limits of what human kind was capable of. But it was also let's be honest, a way to test how much Nike's new shoe technology helped people get faster. So, and that was sort of like the first time I started being aware of this because I think Geoff, you could probably correct me on this. Didn't the Olympic marathoners the medalist wear the technology in 2016? - Yeah and that's a little bit of background that the tech was developed before 2017 and nobody knew about it.
And this was, that caused a lot of controversy rightfully so where in the 2016 Olympic marathon the men's there were three athletes in that who had this new Nike shoe. Those three athletes won the gold, silver and bronze medals. And then I believe in the women's marathon, the winner was also in, so it was two U.S. athletes. - I mean. - So yeah. So they unbeknownst to us they were there and having a big effect.
- And I don't remember when that became public knowledge that they were wearing. Like, I don't think it was right then and there in August. - No it was much afterwards. It was in the last probably a year or two with that. - Yeah.
- So they come out and get publicized. - Right. Yeah so, I mean, I have to say, I am not the official RW gear head. I don't test a gazillion shoes and I get the nomenclature wrong all the time.
It drives my editor crazy. Is it the next percent or the vape or whatever, the 4%? But some people can with really good eyesight can stand like 100 meters away and tell what somebody is wearing on their feet. I don't know if Geoffrey you are one of those who can? - Yeah.
- I am in swimwear yap. - Yeah okay so for someone who does that you'd have to go to our runner and chief, Geoff to engage I'm not that good. But with that said I follow a number of different beats or runners or all then as I said before, one of them is elite athletes especially marathoners, but of course, track runners too. And the super shoes are part of almost every story.
It used to be that if someone had a breakthrough you'd immediately suspect performance enhancing drugs. And now when someone has a big race, you check to see what footwear they're wearing. You might still think a little bit about doping but the bigger question is kind of the footwear. So since 2017, the effect has just been undeniable. My understanding of it though, just came sort of like all at once with Kipchoge.
- Interesting cool. So, yeah, so a lot, again, a lot to unpack there as we get into like the culture and the narrative and how we talk about those. So really quick, before we get into those sides I talked about the regulations that we have on running shoes now that thickness as well as some of the features within the shoes with plates. So that's how we're regulating shoes, Stu really quick.
You gave us the history and the rundown in the suits, how, what were the regulations before that big jump in 2009? And then what were they after and what they look like now? Before 2009, the regulations fall on fell under a category of equipment, which prevented any buoyancy enhancing the use. So something really part of the equipment Phenol the international governing body couldn't figure out how to enforce that or measure that. So leading up to 2008, back in 2007, actually they said, "We're gonna take Supra out of the category of equipment and create a swimsuit category." What that did was it took the buoyancy measurement out.
So that way, in 2009, we had tri suit companies, tri suits wetsuits come into the market. And that's where what we call the floaters first were made in 2009. They had a lifespan of about six months. - Wow. - And that's when. The 2009 rules came in.
Previously we couldn't use vortex generators that was early 2000 things. So the 2009 revolution and, it was interesting 'cause Speedo being in close contact with what was happening chose, not to make any changes any updates in 2009 and we put all our resources into developing swimsuits for 2010. What the regulation did was this abolition criteria for permeability. It had to be permeable to water.
It couldn't be material. It had to be a fabric over the neck. It could be a solid surface like laminated coating. It couldn't have enclosures or zippers.
So we couldn't create excess compression. It had a weight, one a thickness one. What was interesting though, is also built in availability.
You had to get the suit approved in a certain lead time and the students had to be available for the general public in your market, six months prior to the Olympics swimming or the world championships swimming event. So what happened to the three marathon? It just couldn't happen. It had to be publicly aware and available and it was something that was published here are the suits that have been approved, that's six months in advance by the Phenol. So all these regulations really brought us into a much narrower category research then was much more narrowly focused and development. What was interesting is it created a market where instead of the one or two tech suits the manufacturer may have. Now you go to manufacturers and they have eight choices of all different kinds of levels.
So Sarah you probably found out in purchasing a swimsuit for your daughter. So that's really where we are now. And then in 2017, we started to see the restrictions on age groupers. So USA swimming started that research in the consulting we did with them in the research, what the issues were.
It was more of the culture of what it was doing to development, not so much the initial issue of cost of participation. That rule went into effect in USA swimming in September of 2022. - Okay. - Tech suits. That meets certain criteria cannot be used for 12 and under competition swimming in the U.S. - It's interesting, yeah, that sounds, that actually sounds. There are some elements of that, that are analogous to what running adopted where I didn't mention this, but they did.
They did put in a clause about availability that it has to be they put set dates on certain computing chips. - Yap. - Or the Olympics that it has to be available for purchase. But one of the things that kind of cracked me and always was like so it had to be available to the public.
But there is also no definition on what the available to the public is. Like. - Right. - They could sell one pair online and say that, "Yeah we put this on for sale online and it was available and public." - Exactly, yeah. - So we went really quick, before we move on to Larry with so is the burden then on this the company like Speedo to get it approved by Phenol and then sell it as that.
It's not athletes don't have to get sued to probably hold on. - No the burden. Is on the manufacturer. - Yeah. - There's a long lead time. There's for every student model you submit there's like a $3,500 fee. I mean, it's kind of a nice revenue cost center for the Phenol now 'cause hundreds of these suits get submitted every year.
Phenol then authorizes a number sticker that every suit in the market that's approved has a sticker on it. So it's easy to officiate. Officials can see it very clearly. And the enforcement of it hasn't really been an issue because the estimators and coaches and families of swimmers have really lived by that. Phasing in the enforcement for 12 and under, it was a little bit more complicated. But it's yeah it was a very good method devised.
It's cumbersome, but it's working. - Cool great. So then Larry, it sounds like what Stu is describing a kind of very, I don't know let's say cut and dry.
It's very complicated, but it's get the suits approved and you're good to go. Talk to us about bike regulations, like how you described the triangles on the bike that makes certain bikes different. You said you have different even different types of bikes a time trial bike, a road racing bike. Again I'm sure there are lots of examples, but talk us through some of the big ones that you pay attention to or that are changing. - Yeah it's actually funny because we also have a sticker on our bikes and equipment and stuff now, too. So again, with equipment in terms of bikes, bikes wheels and things like that everything needs to be approved by the UCI which is the governing body it's called The Union Seacrest International, but the International Cycling Union.
And yeah, so I guess in terms of regulations so there's yeah, the basic triangles on the bike. We have a road bike and we have a time trial bike, the time trial bike's a lot more aerodynamic and the road bike it's more upright and built for like racing and a bunch. So the handling and everything is taken into account or which is less the case with a time trial bike which is really just about the aerodynamics. Now the aerodynamics are also moving into the road bikes, but yeah, that's kind of another story. So I guess our main regulations that we have is like so there's the weight limit which is 6.8 kilograms or 14.8 pounds I think it is.
And that was put in a place a long time ago around like 2000, because that was the first time they started to break the weight limit and have lighter bikes. Back in that day everyone thought it was just the weight, no one even they didn't even know what aerodynamics was pretty much. So actually it's pretty funny now because we don't even come that close to the weight limits. It's actually hard for us to break the weight limit now because we have disc brakes we have all this other new stuff on our bikes.
And we focus so much more on aerodynamics than we do on weight that, yeah, actually this 20 year old weight rule it's like even hard to get to, which is, yeah I guess another point of contention with some of us in the sport because everyone thinks it's crazy. We've progressed so much yet. Somehow our bikes can't get to the weight limit, but yeah. Then another big one in terms of aerodynamics and more with time trial bikes is something called the three, two, one rule.
Which was like this one I think actually in the last couple of years they've loosened this one a bit, but it's there's like an airfoil, can't be more than three times deep than it is stick. So it made a lot bike manufacturers made these truncated airfoil tubes to try to get around that. Yeah then the other one we have is on the time trial bike we have it's called the 80 centimeter rule. Which is like, I mean this is really confusing, but from the middle of the bottom bracket, which is the middle of where the pedals are connected to on the cranks.
So the end of your HANA Bart extensions can not be longer than 80 centimeters unless you're taller than a certain height which is something around like 6'3, 6'4. And then there's another one that says like your saddle the nose of your saddle, your bike seat can't be more than five centimeters closer than five centimeters behind the bottom bracket again on the bike. So these are really technical, but yeah, that's I guess some of the things we deal with and then now even more generally like there's one that everyone makes fun of because there's a sock height rule. Like now that we have these aerodynamic socks you can't have your sock higher than halfway up your calves. So like, they measure the distance from your ankle to your knee and then like the stock can't pass halfway of that distance.
So, I mean, everyone laughs cause they're like really like do you have to control the length of our socks, but yeah. So they really try to keep, and I think part of that is even just for image because they don't think it looks good if you have socks going up to your knees and stuff. But, and then, yeah, finally, just even recently, just a week ago or so they announced a new two rules. So they came up with all these safety rules. And one thing that people have really been doing a lot of recently, since I was saying we focused a lot on aerodynamics on the road bike there are two positions that people arrive in a lot that are a lot more aerodynamic. One of them is like, when you don't actually have your hands on the handlebars and you sort of rest your forearms on the handlebars and then act like you're you essentially make the position of a time trial bike on your road bike, which maybe isn't the safest, you don't really have anything to hold on to.
If you've hit a bump, your hands could fall off the bars. And they just think it's not setting a good example for young riders, juniors, amateurs back home who are gonna try to do the same thing and hurt themselves. And then finally the last other one that they banned was a lot of times on descents when we're going really fast.
We don't actually sit on the bike seat anymore but we sit on the top tube of the bike to get lower and more aerodynamic. And then a guy who is in the professional Pelotona now also like found that it was really fast to pedal when you're sitting on the top to the bike. Which is like really unstable because it's kinda like you're riding little kid's bike, but it's really fast. So it's so aerodynamic it is a huge advantage if you're in a certain scenario but it's really unstable and well, yes. I mean, I realize there's a ton of advantages from it. Yeah a lot of like people back home are trying it and even for us, it's like now that stage.
So yeah I think that was, they just wanted to kind of quash that one in terms of safety reasons for people who might not be professionals trying to do it and mimic us. So I understand why they do it, but it's a bit tough because we all have kind of adapted to using these different positions and now we have to change again. So, yeah, I don't know. - It's interesting. - Yeah.
- So like it's kind of funny that it sounds like with all those different regulations there are there elements of it that's like controlling like the ones you just mentioned. For, like purely for safety or at least what they think is for safety or an image of it. But then others that kind of get back to just limiting the extent of the equipment. Like how do you guys view like the one that you said, like the height restriction that like for the geometry one that if the cyclist is over a certain height, it can be like all of those are inevitably like kind of arbitrary.
Are there people who grumble about them or are those kind of just accepted as not really? - Well so it used to actually be just like, they measured the angle of your forearm when it was on the handlebar. And so that you could just change your sort of position while you were on the bike. And so they put these tight rules in to like try to deal with that.
And then I even forgot there's even ones that are like based on the angle of the bar and then different height, differences on the arrow then like the arrow extensions of the bar and stuff. So, I mean, yes, people grumble about 'em, but I think if they didn't have 'em in place, like, we'd probably have like crazy bikes. But I don't know, is that bad? I'm not sure. - Yeah again really quick before we've gotta move on but what do you, what does policing those look like? What does, are there like, so just describing how you send suits to Phenol and swimming, you said the UCI like approves bikes, frames or equipment like those things. For like all of those geometric things, like, are those are there people walking around with like rulers and protractors and stuff before races? - So yeah I mean, there are, there I mean with the SOC guys and stuff, there are like these guys with protractors that measure, the length of the leg and everything. - Put yourself down. - Yeah, exactly now that oops, yeah, that happens.
But yeah then I guess in terms of the time trial bike one, there's a jig. So you put your bike on this jig before you start the race and then, and yeah. They measure all the different things and the jig has like all these little contraptions that flip out out and then they measure that. And then they even have things that measure the angle and everything. So yeah you have to go through this sort of bike checks before you do the time trial. They don't really check the road bikes but sometimes after the stage, the way like the winners bikes or something to make sure it's not under the weight limit.
And then the other thing they do is they check for motors. So they like have this tablet that like does sort of a scan on the bike to check if anyone has a motor at the start. - Interesting.
- Yeah. - Great. Okay so we've got this landscape of how we're regulating all of this equipment and whatnot. Now we can get into talking about, what it means within the sport. So getting back to running, if we talk about the sponsorship and availability structure here.
I mentioned I was very lopsided in running where Nike had this tech and other companies didn't. So there's a bit of like getting on an equal playing field. Like Sarah, can you talk about how, your perceptions of like when you watch races, whether it's now or in 2017 what did you feel like there was an equal playing field? Or how do you even define the concept of what, an equal playing field is and what yeah? What did it mean in running and what does it mean to you? - Yeah, that's hard. I guess I would say that now I do feel like the playing field is equal amongst athletes representing different brands.
So, I mean, over the weekend we watched Ellie Purrier for new balance run and American record in the two mile and new balance spikes. I mean, those things seem like really fast. I've heard Dez Linden who was the winner of the 2018 Boston marathon say she thinks, her Brooks shoes now or every bit, where Nike's wear. But back in 2017, she felt like she was running the Boston marathon and the end of the race people were just running away from her. And that was the first time she felt like, wow something is really strange going on here.
So I think now the leveling the playing field has leveled for the elite athletes. You hear about elite athletes that are really intimately involved in shoe development whether they're companies as they should be. I mean, Molly Seidel signed with Puma and she's like working very closely with them to develop their latest technology. I think, Saccone, Hoka Brooks a new balance the Adidas. I mean, we saw that crazy half marathon in Valencia where four men went under the current world half-marathon record.
I mean, they were all in Adidas. So I think it's level now. For the masses that's where the gap having to do with expense lies.
I think, I mean, these things are incredibly expensive. Everyone likes to say how inexpensive a sport running is. And I mean, sure, maybe compared to cycling or golf or skiing or something like that it is relatively inexpensive. But it's not cheap to buy these things that started what $250 I think.
And. - Yeah. And I guess they're really quick for the audience. Like for context, a normal pair of running shoes might be a $100, $120, $130. - Right. - These are. $250 with the Nike vapor flyer.
- To give you an example of swimming. Your standard, like for a suit might be for a woman $70, $60 and the top end high-tech suits are $450. So talk about a gap that's huge. - Yeah crazy. And so that, I guess that kind of segues. So talking about, again, playing field wasn't that equal.
It's funny my perception in running now is that I've seen other companies move forward but the thing that leaves me scratching my head is still. And I don't know this and I'm I study this for a living is like how equal if they are equal the old ones are better, but I still don't know if they are. Are they 3% better than they used to be in the Nike as 4% better? And then or something like that. So that's kind of an open question for me. But with that. - Well right.
And then you have people that just don't respond well to it, right? I mean, like you have. - Yeah. - Non-responders like just like you go to altitude training there are some people that don't do well at altitude. There's some people that these shoes don't work for them.
So I guess that kinda like stinks to be them, right? I mean, yeah. So, I mean, so there's two like we, yes who knows where the baseline is and where we are now and then who knows how any individual athlete actually responds. - And, so it's kind of big. Big question marks on both yeah a lot of fronts there. So before we kind of, before we move on I think the other thing that we should talk about in running that, this exemplifies is I think there's a concept of availability. And that's what the one of the new regulations said it has to be reasonably available to all.
But I would, I think that there's this concept of like explicit availability that is like, anybody can go to a store and buy the shoe. Or like effective availability which on a professional level, if you're sponsored by Brooks or Saccone, you effectively like a Nike shoe even if it's the best one is effectively unavailable to you. Do you feel that tension and how do you is that a balance that we should try and strike? And how can you deal with it? - Yeah, I mean, like I said, I feel like these other rival companies have caught up, so but I mean, back two or three years ago there were always these stories about people who would be wearing Nike shoes and they would be like covering them in black paint or something so that nobody could, see that they were actually Nike shoes. And they were wearing shoes that weren't, I don't know how much of that is actually really true. And I mean, certainly it's not at the point yet where you can walk into it a shoe store and get some of these things, especially the spikes. I mean, I've heard some athletes complain about that.
And then I did a story on a masters runner who 61 year old guy ran 449 for the mile. Yeah it was just supposed to have been a world record but a little aside was that the track meet wasn't sanctioned. Like they didn't do the paperwork. So it never qualified as a world record but still a 61 year old were ran 449.
And I said, "Did you wear controversial shoes?" I mean, it's a question you have to ask now. And he said, "Yes, I absolutely did." I went to E-bay to get the latest version of the Nike dragonflies whatever spikes and yeah, they helped.
So, I mean. - Yeah. - That we can't all be going to eBay. So for the athletes the elite athletes I think there are probably in a better spot than they were two years ago, for the rest of people who are willing to shell out that money. I'm not sure how easy it is to get this stuff.
- Yeah what have you really quick, what have you heard from I guess, any elite athletes on that? Whether it's off the record or in private or what? - Again, I think like two, two and a half years ago they even non Nike athletes would buy that technology to just to see what they were missing. They were just to check it out. They really felt a gap. I, some of the, I heard somebody was L.A athlete
who's like a middle distance runner. They don't have a footwear, they're only a women's apparel brand. They don't have a footwear components so they can wear whatever they want having a hard time getting some of the Nike spikes. I don't know.
I think like for the top level athletes, they can get what they want. But two, two and a half years ago, I think it was a lot different. And people are like, looking at this stuff kind of like in secret. - Yeah. - [Sarah] Like, what is this here? - Yeah, let me interject there because there are actually legal implications that occurred based on that very issue in swimming. We had summers marking out the suit when they were trying to grab a Speedo suit and they were under contract from another brand way back in '96. But leading up to 2008, one of the manufacturers had some sponsored swimmers that chose to wear Speedo suits.
And that manufacturer actually sued Speedo and USA Swimming for tampering with those athlete contracts. And it dragged on for a year and a half. And finally the suit was thrown out of court. It was frivolous but so there was some legal precedent set early on and it became really an issue.
And that freedom of choice of the athletes, which in the USA Swimming you have to wear the national apparel. Like you're running uniform but you can wear whatever shoes, same thing with swimming cap in so many, you have the freedom of choice but that became a real issue. - Interesting so that, I guess kind of segues into what I wanted to ask Larry about, constraints and freedom of choice.
Like you don't have that like your team structure you have correct me if I'm wrong, but equipment sponsors. So like what constraints do you feel like as an athlete and have you ever been in? Do you have examples of maybe like situations where you in one of your teams where you didn't like the equipment you had and felt at a disadvantage? Or observed that or something like that? You can speak to that. - Yeah, absolutely so t's kind of a constant battle in cycling because it used to be back in the day everyone had similar looking bikes, they were all aluminum or steel or whatever. And so, if you didn't like your bike you'd get a different one made by a different manufacturer and paint it the same as whatever your bike sponsor was. Well now with carbon fiber bikes and everything every bike is very distinct. So if you're riding a different bike, people know so it's really, it's not an option anymore.
And yeah so I guess actually again, we saw kind of I got in cycling also a high profile case of this where a friend of mine who he was the world champion last year in. So in 2019, he was the world's time trial champion. And he actually, he abandoned the Tour De France essentially because they didn't get him the fastest suit that he wanted. And it was kind of like this big uproar but as a rider, I actually kind of, I respected his the stand that he took because he said I can't win if I don't have the best equipment. And for a lot of us we wouldn't be able to do that if we just stopped and said, "I'm done."
Your career would be over too but he actually, so he was fired by his team but then he went and won the world championships anyway. So that was cool, and that was like a pretty, I guess, a bold move. But yeah it's tough because yeah if you don't have the best equipment especially in the time trial, you can't win.
So yeah, I've struggled with that a lot. A few years ago I was on a team called Aqua Blue and we raced these new bikes that were like totally new technology with something called one by which actually is just was one chain ring instead of two. So the idea was that it was more aerodynamic but you had essentially half the gears. Well, in the end you had the same easiest gear in the same gear but you just had a lot fewer gears in between. And in theory, it's good in certain races like flat races where you don't need, a bunch of different gears.
Maybe you're only staying in your big chain ring, but yeah. It's like we, if we have a choice we would have written with two chain rings as well. So there's all this different there's different kinds of stuff. But I guess personally for me, yeah I have been impacted a bit in my career by not always the optimal equipment choices. But it is what it is.
And unfortunately you're, if you want a job but you're bound to the equipment that you have there are little things you can do to maybe get around it. Like I've written different tires before because actually tires have really big differences in between them in terms of rolling resistance. So one tire can be a lot faster than another so you can maybe use different tires and then, mark 'em up or put a different logo on. That's maybe easy to get around but things like bikes and the bigger things it's kinda kind of hard to get by on that.
- Interesting and really quick keep this brief but I had an audience question that I wanted to ask you that kind of speaks to this. Like what effect do you think that like tech and equipment like for you has on or interacts with your motivation? So like knowing whether it's boosting confidence knowing it's good, or if somebody tells you like this white frame is 1% worse like how does that play in your mind as an athlete? - I mean, it's huge, like the psychological aspect in all of our sports is gigantic. So I think obviously there's the physical aspect but if you show up to the line and you don't have the best stuff which for me has been the case plenty of times. I mean, yeah. You're kind of have to be in which it's hard. Yeah it's hard to deal with.
But I guess what I would say is a lot of times, maybe your equipment could be inferior in one aspect but better in another. So over the last years we had these bikes that they were super light and stiff. So in the climbs, they were great but on the flat they were not aerodynamic at all. So you just kinda like, yeah. - Okay.
- Maybe on the flat stages that we were beaten in the head. I mean, but on the climbs you knew like, okay, yeah I'm there, so stay, I guess you just you try to keep it out of your mind. - That's what it is. - It's always there.
- Have yourself a good story to keep it. - Exactly I can tell you that I'm happy to be on good equipment now so. - Nice, interesting. And that's, I think that actually does speak to something we might see in running, but more broadly in sports that like the more complex equipment gets the more specialized different situations it becomes optimal for. So like the more complex bikes are there's gonna be an optimal configuration for climbing versus an optimal configuration for flats. And it, I mean, that's just complexity that I think we kind of have to deal with.
So we're kind of closing in on time here, but I wanted to cover like culture and narrative of the sport as well. So I'll kind of fold some of these topics in together, but why don't we stew, talking about kind of the culture and history of the suit and the availability issue. Why don't you talk about what the suits did at the different levels of sport and kind of your or the sport and your involvement in those? - That's a very good question. Often we see different rules in the NCAA or high school sports or the club, world USA Swimming. But as this issue broke with tech suits so quickly all those groups debated it. NCAA had many debates with the swimming and diving committee, but it was raised it was accepted very early on in the process that everybody would accept the funerals and the peanut process.
So the NCAA looks to the Phenol sticker, USA Swimming looks to the Phenol sticker, the YMCA high school mirrors, the NCAA sports. So it was very early on all condensed. So that really wasn't the difference in the technical aspects or the legality of it, that different sports. What did happen is that as we got down to the impact like in high school or the age group levels most high school teams out there now and I am a volunteer coach in Ann Arbor for in local high schools we collect suits.
Somebody graduates, and that can swim they give us the suits. - Wow. - We pass them around. These are kids that may wear it once a year and that year round summer, and we have a stock most common high school teams do them.
So it's created a way to provide the opportunity create the availability, level the playing field without incurring that added expense. So that the expectation or the pressure is on a kid to buy a $300 suit that they're gonna wear once a year. So that's been really good in the culture but the big shift has been the recognition to limit the age groups and get the focus back on what you need to do early on in developing the support, the sport, good coaching, work on technique and things.
And don't look for the shortcuts of buying a suit 'cause I've got to make my you gotta be better. - You focus on what really makes you better. And that's been the, really the driving impetus behind those age group regulation. - Interesting so then I would say Sarah, I'd that's I think that kind of spoke to the different developmental levels. I really wanted to get your opinion on how we talk about those the effects of that. So you, as a writer your job is to tell stories of athletes.
How does the, how does equipment confound those stories? And I mean, do you have any I mean brought up one recently but one, it's been, it's just been a bound in running of amazing performances but how much are they done by the shoes? How much is it racing? How do you talk about that and how do you balance it? And, yeah. - It's really hard. I mean, that's all I can say.
I mean, I, an athlete I think of is Sarah Hall a marathoner who's recently run the second fastest all time U.S. So 220 something I can't remember what she did, but she runs for 86. 86 is a little bit late to the game but now they've got these shoes, but I mean she's also 37 years old. She's running the best times of her life. She's also a mom of four adopted daughters.
She's like. - Wow. - Those are the things you wanna focus on. You wanna focus on like her cumulative racing experience, like her cumulative training miles. And you don't wanna just like say, "It's just the shoes that are making her fast now at 37." I mean, it's really hard.
I don't know. I just don't really, I feel like in some ways it diminishes the achievements of the athletes and I don't know. So I it's a tough line to balance. I don't love writing about it kind of for that reason, but I mean and by the same token you can't just ignore what's going on. - And now. Well one of my questions though, is like part of it's like Sarah Hall story is great because she's had this resurgence and she's winning races.
But the other thing that I'm constantly wondering is like we don't wanna diminish the achievement of athletes. But sometimes if all they do is put up a good time is it really an achievement? Like if it's, and that's kind of the question that I keep asking myself. I mean do you think it's something that we should just focus? Maybe we, until we recalibrate our things we just have to stop even worrying or being excited about times our performances. - Yeah it's interesting. I heard also from an agent I spoke to recently that there's a lot of shoe contracts are usually done on a Olympic cycle. So a lot of contracts were up at the end of 2020, even though the Olympics didn't happen.
And as they're renewing or not renewing athletes time bonuses used to be a big part of it and they are not anymore. So, or they're at a much higher level than they once were. - Yeah. - And that that's just like fascinating to me.
So you can't anymore go get like a big, if you're a guy running 335 or something for the 1500 meters it's just like no more, so yeah. I mean, to be just not focused on the time so much the all time, top 10 lists we just watched the mile record in college over the weekend. Again, two guys from the University of Oregon, like ripped off 350 miles. I mean, it's just unheard of, they knocked all us two seconds off the previous record. I mean, it's probably the shoes.
I don't know what, I don't know. I don't know what you do. I think I'm lost. - Yeah and tentacly.
A long time ago the swimming sponsored contracts had moved away from times to metal bonuses in world ranking bonuses. - Yeah. - As opposed to time for some of those same reasons. - Yeah. - Interesting well, I guess so to close up, we're running low on time here. I wanted to ask you each a question and that, maybe just keep it really quick and simple. But what's the question for all of you is gonna be what fundamentally excites you about your sport? And how do you see that persisting or changing as equipment and tech evolves? And maybe we'll start, we'll go Stu, Sarah and then get the athletes perspective from Larry so.
Here you are. - Well in my perspective, what still excites me about the sport has changed because I'm volunteering at a local high school level after being exposed to the elite. And I still get that excitement of the ability in a sport like swimming or track and field that everybody can improve in that or what level they are. And I still see the excitement when somebody breaks a minute for the first time and they got to wear a tech suit net meet.
So I still liked that ability to perform and how it can help be that added icing on the cake if they've worked hard to get that little extra bonus. So I still get excited about that. Both from the improvement factor and from the the role of equipment. - Interesting cool. And Sarah, what about you in running? - Yeah I guess I'd agree largely with Stu, but I just I love how running is so deep right now, like especially American running, but all over the world.
Like people are doing amazing things at young ages, at older ages than we ever thought possible. Like, well into their late 30s and 40s. And it's just, there's no typical time. There's no narrow window to be like an excellent runner anymore You can see it like it all lifespans.
I just love that. And I mean, if technology is helping people stay in the sport longer, to run injury free and to have this great performances and I'm all for it. - Yeah, and that's something I've observed in running to that I do love about the tech. I mean, I'm personally, I waffle on it. There's part of me that loves it and part of me that resents it.
But that speaks to this thing that this it, these times and these performances that are shocking, largely because of the tech has created so much excitement and stories that have that excitement is something that catalyzes more involvement or just self-belief getting back to that question, we had to Larry that's awesome. And so your common commentary on how deep running is maybe technology stimulating that excitement is, it can be a good thing. So, yeah.
All right, Larry, and for you. - It's funny actually because I was gonna say similar things about cycling that yeah now we're seeing it used to be. They thought you had to be about 28 to 33 to be like, a really good cyclist. And the guy who won the Tour De France last year was 21 years old. So yeah, I think we're seeing and the guy the year before who was world champion he was like 39.
So it's like, yeah, there's really it's pretty cool that people are performing for such a long period of time. And there's not necessarily these small narrow boundaries that they used to think. And I guess for me, one of the most exciting things about our sport is yeah, it used to be sort of like, well it used to be pretty old school still in some places is quite old school. And it was always like this is how it's always been done. And this is how it works, young guys can perform this. And I think like all those books are just being thrown out the window because, and that comes to equipment, that comes to nutrition that comes to training and that comes to performance.
So I think that's really exciting. It's just like, I mean, yeah there's still so much to progress and explore. And every year, like I mean the levels just getting higher and higher which is tough as an athlete because like, you have to keep raising your game but that's exciting at the same time, because yeah.
It's like it's progressing so much every single year and so quickly. And as a fan of the sport, in addition to being, a member of the sport, it's exciting to see. - Yeah that's excellent. Well, thank you it sounds like kind of the thing threading through everything through the thing.
I mean, where you guys all just said, it was like, as despite this balance between physiology and technology we still are seeing humans that impress us on all levels. And then I mean, I think that's what sport is feeling that connection of human achievement and so that'll persist. So I think we can take solace in that is that that'll always be there. So cool. Well with that, we're are a little bit over time. This was an absolute joy to have all of you guys.
Thank you so much for joining us. Hope the audience learned a lot and yeah. - Thank you. - [Sarah] Thanks a lot.
- Thanks everyone. - [Stuart] Bye. - Bye, thank you.