It is hardly breaking news that Nike is at the forefront of sporting development, but their announcement earlier this month about their new running shoe was intriguing. The biggest sports manufacturer in the world is currently part of a project which has the aim of assisting an athlete to run a sub two-hour marathon and, as part of that project, they have vowed to develop a shoe which will aid this record-breaking run.

A couple of weeks ago, Nike unveiled the Zoom Vaporfly Elite which, they believe, will give athletes the edge they will need if they are to break the two-hour barrier. The shoe will be made of lightweight foam and carbon-fibre plates and has an emphasis on reducing weight, maximising aerodynamics, has extremely soft cushioning and a responsive toe-off which is suited for fast running. Each shoe will be a bespoke model, designed to perfectly suit each individual runner’s personal preferences and biomechanics.

It is the specialist foam and carbon-fibre plates which have caught most attention though. The foam, which Nike are refusing to go into detail about, is reported to give an 85% energy return – which is far higher than conventional running shoes. And the carbon-fibre plate, which is sandwiched between two layers of foam and runs the length of the shoe, is designed to increase stiffness and is reported to reduce workload on the calf which will, it is hoped, reduce fatigue in the athlete.

This carbon-fibre plate has been likened to a spring and the question has arisen of whether this technology should be permitted. The closest comparisons to Nike’s new “spring” technology are the Oscar Pistorius case and the Markus Rehm case. Pistorius was initially banned from competing against able-bodied athletes as it was deemed that his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage over his able-bodied competitors. However, on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, his ban was overturned and he was permitted to compete against able-bodies athletes. However, Rehm, who is a long-jumper with one prosthetic leg, has been banned from competing in able-bodied competition as athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, has ruled that the spring his prosthetic leg gives him is an unfair advantage.

Nike has claimed that its new shoe will lower the oxygen demands of the athlete by as much as 4%. If this is true, it will mean that the athlete is using less energy and so therefore, will be able to maintain a higher pace for longer. As we all know, marginal gains are imperative in elite sport and so a shoe which can make such a considerable difference to an individual is a significant step forward in terms of athletic performance.

However, the question of whether this new shoe is fair and therefore should it be permitted in-competition, is crucial. While some technological advancements in sporting equipment are welcomed – think tennis strings, golf balls and bike frames to mention but a few – other advancements are deemed to be morally questionable.

The instinct of sport seems to be to curtail many significant technological improvements. In swimming, the full-body non-textile suit was developed prior to the 2008 Olympic Games during which almost all world records were obliterated. This phenomenon was attributed almost entirely to the new suits and they were banned only a year after they were first seen in competition. Somewhat similarly, Graeme Obree developed his own bike which allowed him to ride in the "Superman" position and it was on this bike and in this position that he broke the world hour record. In the aftermath of his ride, the changes that he had made to his bike to facilitate his new position were banned.

It is impossible to come to a conclusion which will satisfy everyone. My gut reaction is to allow all and any technological advancements – after all, how can a governing body say that spikes are allowed, but not certain types of spikes? Or that certain swimming costumes, but not all costumes are ok? It is inevitable that technological advancements will infiltrate sport and this cannot and should not be seen as a negative. However, permitting all technological changes does run the risk of turning sport into a contest of who has the best scientists and the best developers rather than who is the best athlete in much the way that Formula One is.

Elite sport is wildly expensive as it is and so there is certainly a danger that blindly allowing technology without any restrictions puts poorer nations out of the running before the race has even begun. But sport, as does everything, moves on and new technology is a huge part of this. Elite sport must continue to develop in order to retain its allure and so banning particular changes is but a temporary solution. Nike’s new shoe may leave a sour taste in some people’s mouth but it is nothing more than the next step forward in elite sport.