This is an excerpt from Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture & Cool of Running Shoes. Sports journalist Brian Metzler uncovers the fascinating stories behind the shoes, brands, and people that make up the multi-billion-dollar running shoe industry.
Eight Epic Shoe Fails
Unfortunately, shoes sometimes fail runners at the worst possible time. In some cases, runners persevere and overcome the challenge, but sometimes the shoe snafu wins out.
1 Abebe Bikila, 1960 Olympic Marathon
Ethiopian Abebe Bikila is well known for winning the 1960 Olympic Marathon in Rome while running barefoot. But the only reason he ran barefoot was because the Adidas shoes he had been given in the days before the race didn’t fit very well. He had trained and raced barefoot most of his life, so running as such through the streets of Rome wasn’t too out of the ordinary. He returned to the 1964 Olympic Marathon in Tokyo wearing a pair of Puma shoes to protect his feet from the rough roads along the course.
2 Moses Tanui, 1993 IAAF World Championships 10,000 m
With a lap to go in the 10,000-meter world track and field championships, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie inadvertently stepped on the back of Moses Tanui’s left track spike. The frustrated Kenyan runner flung the shoe off and then tried to speed away from Gebrselassie, opening a 20-meter lead down the backstretch. But Gebrselassie remained in contact and eventually outsprinted Tanui down the homestretch to the finish in 27:46:02 to win gold by a half second.
3 Quincy Watts, 1993 IAAF World Championships 400 m
American sprinter Quincy Watts was the 1992 Olympic champion at 400 meters and was the favorite to win the event at the 1993 IAAF World Championships. But early in the race, he heard a popping sound coming from his Nike track spikes and then felt the right shoe start to come apart, opening and closing and “flapping like a banana peel” with every stride. He wasn’t able to accelerate as he usually did but still managed to close strong down the homestretch to finish fourth in the race in a still-fast 45:05 seconds.
4 John Kagwe, 1997 New York City Marathon
Kenyan runner John Kagwe broke one of racing’s cardinal rules by buying a pair of brand new Nike Air Vengeance at the pre-race expo and wearing them the next day in the race. As luck would have it, the right shoe came untied three times during the race, forcing him to stop each time to retie it. When it came loose a fourth time, Kagwe ran the final 4 miles with laces flapping in the wind. He still won the race by more than a minute in 2:08:12, but he missed the course record by 11 seconds. Nike later paid him the $10,000 he would have won had he set the course record.
5 Dejen Gebremeskel, 2011 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix
At the start of the 3,000-meter run at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix track meet in Boston, Ethiopian Dejen Gebremeskel slipped out of his right Adidas racing shoe. Running the race with one shoe didn’t stop him from running competitively, though. He stayed with the lead pack throughout the race and eventually outkicked pre-race favorite Mo Farah during the final lap to win in 7:35:37, the fastest time of the year in the world at that point.
6 Sherod Hardt, 2014 NCAA Division I Great Lakes Regional
At the start of this mid-November collegiate cross-country race in Madison, Wisconsin, Michigan State sophomore Sherod Hardt got tangled up with several runners, tripped, and lost one of his Nike racing shoes. With a spiked shoe on his right foot and nothing on his left, Hardt ran a strong race over the cold, partially frozen grassy 10K course, finishing 25th overall in a personal best 30:43 to help his Spartans place second and qualify for the next week’s NCAA Championships.
7 Jenny Simpson, 2015 IAAF World Championships, 1500 m
Jenny Simpson entered the 2015 world championships having already won gold (2011) and silver (2013) medals in the 1,500-meter run. She was among the leaders in the 2015 championship race, but with a lap and a half to go, a runner clipped the back of her left New Balance track spikes. She tried to keep the shoe on by clenching her toes but eventually had to flick it off. She remained on the heels of Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba as long as she could but eventually faded and finished 11th in the field of 12 runners with a bloodied foot.
8 Eliud Kipchoge, 2015 Berlin Marathon
Although he hadn’t yet solidified his status as the greatest marathoner of all time, Eliud Kipchoge added to his legacy by overcoming a shoe snafu at the 2015 Berlin Marathon. The Kenyan ran most of the race with the insoles slipping partway out of a pair of Nike prototype racing shoes, a dilemma that caused painful blisters and considerable distraction over the final 10 miles of the race. A determined Kipchoge overcame the problem and ran away from the rest of the field to win the race in 2:04:00, a new personal best and the 10th-fastest time in history to that point.
Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture & Cool of Running Shoes by sports journalist Brian Metzler explores the shoes and brands that have made running shoe history.