Sneaker controversy explodes after ‘best race in Olympic history’

Karsten Warholm’s gold medal did not ease his anger.

The 25-year-old men’s 400m hurdle champion expressed frustration that his rival, silver medalist Rai Benjamin, “had those things in his shoes, which I hate,” allowing him to run “on air.”

“Those things” are an innovative thick slab of Pebax foam in sprint spikes, dubbed the “super spike” running shoe found in Nike’s Air Zoom Victory and Dragonfly models.

Mo Farah, Letesenbet Giday, Joshua Cheptegei and Sifan Hassan broke records last fall while wearing Nike Air Zoom Dragonflys on their runs.

“I don’t see why you should put anything beneath a sprinting shoe,” Warholm said. “In middle distance I can understand it because of the cushioning. If you want cushioning, you can put a mattress there. But if you put a trampoline I think it’s bulls–t, and I think it takes credibility away from our sport.”

Karsten Warholm (left) beat Rai Benjamin in the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympics.
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Ima

In what many are calling the best race ever, Warholm (Norway) and Benjamin (United States) broke the world record, which had stood for 29 years prior to Warholm breaking it last month in Oslo.

Benjamin himself declared it the “best race in Olympic history.” 

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Warholm – who ran a 45.94 Monday before letting out a celebratory scream, ripping his uniform in half and dropping to his knees in astonishment – works with Puma and the Mercedes F1 team to create his own spikes, which feature an upper carbon plate in the soul and weigh only 135 grams. But they are not the same as the “super spike,” according to Warholm.

“Yes, we have the carbon plate,” Warholm said. “But we have tried to make it as thin as possible. Because that is the way I would like to do it. Of course technology will always be there. But I also want to keep it down to a level where we can compare results because that is important.

Karsten Warholm (left) and Rai Benjamin after their 400-meter battle.
Karsten Warholm (left) and Rai Benjamin after their 400-meter battle.
AFP via Getty Images

“I’ve always said that the perfect race doesn’t exist. But this is the closest I think I’ve come to a perfect race.”

Benjamin gave credit to the track – not his shoes – when discussing his second-place performance.

“It’s a very good track. It’s soft, it has a lot of give,” he said. “it’s a phenomenal track. People say it’s the track, the shoes, and the conditions were really good.

“But I could wear different shoes and still run fast. No one will do what we just did, I don’t care who you are. Could be Kevin Young, Edwin Moses, respect to those guys, but they cannot run what we just ran just now. It’s a really fast track, it felt good, the conditions were really good.”

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