IN normal circumstances, an athlete running two or three, or even more, seconds faster than their previous best would raise some eyebrows.

Until recently, on seeing that a runner had obliterated their personal best, there were reservations.

Traditionally, ultra-quick times in athletics were coupled with the often unsubstantiated suggestion that there may well have been something fishy going on, that doping may be involved. It is a legacy of the sport’s murky past when all too often, athletes disappointed us by testing positive for a banned substance in the aftermath of an outstanding performance.

However, personal bests are no longer mentioned in the same breath as drugs with these super-fast times down to something far less underhand.

Records are being smashed everywhere on the track, and they are almost all down, at least in part, to one thing – shoes.

For a number of years, improved shoe technology has had a hand in breaking records on the road. Now it is happening on the track in the shape of Nike spikes, as well as New Balance versions.

The men’s 5,000m and 10,000m world records have  been broken in recent months, as has the women’s 5,000m. 

And last week, GB international, Elliot Giles, who has never reached the final of a major global championship, ran the second-fastest indoor 800m in history, smashing Seb Coe’s British record which had stood since 1982. He was wearing Nike spikes.

Nike itself has claimed its new spikes offer a paradigm shift, and it certainly appears that the sport is being changed dramatically due to these technological developments.

There is a suggestion that so great is the change to the sport as a result of the shoes, it is comparable to when athletics stopped taking place on cinder tracks and switched to synthetic surfaces.

The shoe technology that is making these improvements possible involves a carbon fibre plate coupled with hyper-responsive foam and while the exact effect on performance has not been calculated, the evidence suggests it is significant.

However, an interesting aspect of these recent record-breaking runs is that most of the athletes downplay the benefit gained  from these new spikes. 

After breaking Coe’s long-standing mark, Giles was quick to rebut anyone who suggested his Nike shoes were a key factor in his record-breaking run. “Because I’ve done well, people say it must be the shoes,” the Englishman said. “It’s a nonsense and a bit of an insult.”

Similarly, another Briton, Marc Scott, recently beat his 10,000m personal best by a whopping 46 seconds, but when it was suggested his spikes were a factor, said: “Give some credit where it’s due rather than consistently nag about the shoe technology.”

Talking about this new technology is neither nonsense nor nagging.

It would, of course, be doing these athletes a huge disservice to suggest their improved times are solely due to their shoes. It is only possible to become a world-class runner and break records by training phenomenally hard and dedicating almost your entire life to improving as an athlete. But it would also be disingenuous to suggest the shoes are not playing a part.

As yet, the sprints have not been significantly affected, although that is likely to come this year.

Nike’s Viperfly, which has been designed specifically for 100m runners, was due to be launched in 2020 but was deemed ineligible to be used in competition as it was not on general release.

Reports have suggested this shoe could slash a remarkable 0.3 seconds off a runner’s 100m time. 

It looks like a modified version of this shoe will find its way to market this year, and so also be seen in elite competition.

I don’t know what the solution to this is. On the one hand, I’m all for technological advancements. What is the point of watching, or taking part in sport, if the best performances are being capped at a certain level? Is the whole idea of elite sport not to try to better what has been done before?

Over the years, developments have made sport all the better. Few would argue that tennis players switching from wooden to graphite rackets hasn’t improved the sport. Similarly, there aren’t many observers arguing we should go back to leather footballs.

But do the positives that have come from these past developments mean we never draw a line?

For those who argue that a line is necessary, where, then, is it drawn? At what point do we say okay, that’s enough improvement? 

There is no answer that will placate everyone.

The plan by World Athletics appears to be to curtail the technology somewhat, while allowing many of the developments to go ahead and be used by elite athletes.

Now the technology has been permitted in competition, it is unlikely the governing body will row back the rules and begin banning these shoes, or even elements of them.

But as the technology continues to develop, there will likely be pressure from manufacturers to allow more and more progress, at a faster and faster rate.

What seems certain is that things will not go backwards. All that remains to be seen is quite how quickly this evolution happens.