Old Spikes

History of athletics spikes

They are a fundamental part of your kit if you are an athlete. But have you ever stopped to wonder the history behind your spikes? It’s fascinating, dating back over 170 years.

Spikes have their origins in the 1850’s, where they were heavy leather shoes with nails driven through the soles. They provided added grip on the dirt and cinder athletics tracks of the day. Today, they are lightweight shoes with replaceable spikes to suit a number of track surfaces, incorporating space age technology.

By the 1890’s spikes had begun to be sold commercially by Joseph Williams Foster, who formed the shoe company Reebok. Over time developments were made to modernise their design, with leather being replaced by light-weight kangaroo hide.

bannister
The spikes worn by Roger Bannister in 1954 when he became the first man to break four minutes for the mile. They were made by Charles Law of GT Law and Son of Wimbledon Park in London from black kangaroo leather, and were significantly lighter than other running shoes of the time. In 2015 they sold at auction for USD$412,000.

Adidas

It was in the 20th century that German cobbler Adolf Dassler pioneered the development of the modern spiked shoe we know today. They soon became popular, with Jesse Owens wearing a pair of Dassler’s shoes to win four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games. After World War II, Dassler formed the footwear company Adidas (a contraction of his name Adi Dassler). He registered the famous three stripe logo and set about developing modern footwear. This included making significant improvements to football boots and track & field spikes.

As part of these developments, adidas began to make spikes made of canvas and rubber. Further, they started to create a range of shoes specialised for the event they were to be used for. Following a bitter family feud, Dassler’s brother Rudi broke away to form a competing company, Puma. A fierce commercial rivalry followed, as did changes to track surfaces.

Controversy: The Brush Spike

The 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico were the first to be conducted on an all-weather synthetic track. With spikes no longer needing to pierce a cinder track surface to provide grip, further design innovation followed. Initially, this resulted in shorter spike lengths being used on synthetic tracks. But the most controversial innovation was the development of “brush spikes” by Puma.

brush spikes
Brush Spikes

Spiked shoes had previously consisted of 4 to 6 spikes on each shoe. In contrast, Puma’s brush spikes consisted of 68 short needle-like spikes, designed to provide superior grip on the new synthetic tracks. Reportedly, athletes noticed significant differences when sprinting around bends.

Brush spikes were worn by John Carlos at the 1968 US Olympic Trials at Echo Summit, where he clocked 19.7 seconds (19.92s electronic) in the 200m. Similarly, a fortnight before the Mexico City Olympic Games of that year, his compatriot Vince Matthews ran 44.4 seconds for the 400m. Both marks were better than the previous world record, but sensationally were not be ratified by the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), the global body for athletics, due to brush spikes having been worn.

IAAF Scandal

Ultimately, brush spikes were banned by the IAAF and disappeared from use prior to the Mexico Olympic Games. A indication of the ongoing feud between adidas and Puma, adidas lobbied the IAAF to ban the spikes on the grounds that the new spikes damaged synthetic track surfaces. Puma alleges that corrupt payments were made by adidas to IAAF officials to change the rules so that shoes could have no more than six spikes. However, an alternative version of events suggests that IAAF officials may have instead been blackmailed. The full truth of the matter may never truly be known…

Only 500 pairs of brush spikes were ever manufactured and whatever the truth of the decision making process behind their evaluation and ban, they quickly disappeared. With improvements in manufacturing, hard plastic protrusions, in addition to metal spikes, became common on the spike plates of modern shoes.

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Spikes worn by Alberto Juantorena from Cuba in winning the 400m and 800m at the 1976 Olympic Games.

Innovation

Spiked shoes have continually become lighter in weight over time. Generally this has been through the use of lighter fabrics, mesh and foams. Other innovation has been more incremental and not universally adopted, such as ceramic spikes, and 3D printed spike plates by New Balance.

More recently, the emergence of spikes with carbon fibre plates and thicker soles for spiked shoes, similar to the controversial Vaporfly distance running shoes, has led to significant performance improvements for athletes. This has particularly been the case in middle distance and distance events. As a result, World Athletics (the new name for the IAAF since 2019) introduced new rules relating to the height of the soles for spikes in track events.

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Nike’s Air Zoom Victory Spikes, with a substantially higher ‘stack height’ than previous spikes, and a carbon plate within the sole.

All major brands now have adopted higher ‘stack heights’ in their spikes, as well as carbon plates that assist with greater energy return. Some brands are even experimenting with ‘spikeless spikes’ such as the Asics Metaspeed LD.

Asics Metaspeed LD

$400.00

Unleash your running potential with the Asics Metaspeed LD, the groundbreaking “spikeless spike” designed to take your speed to the next level. Whether you’re a seasoned sprinter or distance runner, or just getting started, this shoe is your ticket to longer strides and effortless speed.

Category:

Types of track spikes – the metal bits

The World Athletics’s Competition Rules currently state that a shoe can have no more than 11 spikes (a remnant of the rules that banned the Brush Spike). A number of different spike designs exist:

  • Christmas Tree (also called Compression Tier)
  • Pyramid
  • Needle

Christmas Tree Spikes 7mm

(16 customer reviews)

  Christmas Tree Spikes are a popular choice for athletes competing in sprints, hurdles, middle distance and field events on synthetic tracks.

SKU: 7C
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Omni-Lite Christmas Tree Spikes 7mm

(12 customer reviews)

Omni-Lite Christmas Tree Spikes 7mm are a light weight performance spike made from a ceramic composite. Omni-Lite Christmas Tree Spikes are a popular choice for athletes seeking a psychological boost for big competitions, in sprints, middle distance and field events. Available in black, silver and gold colours. Standard pack of 12 spikes for $12.99.

SKU: OL7
Category:

Christmas Tree spikes are often preferred by the managers of synthetic tracks. They are claimed not to pierce the track surface as much as Pyramid spikes, and thus cause less damage to the surface. In contrast, Needle spikes are often not allowed as they cause noticeble damage.

Manufacturers often claim that Christmas Tree spikes also return more of the energy that is imparted through them compared to other spike designs. However, research has shown that Pyramid spikes offer a similar result. The same study identified that Jumps Spikes return a greater amount of energy than other designs.

Pyramid Spikes 6mm

(34 customer reviews)

  Pyramid Spikes are a versatile track & field spike for use on synthetic tracks. They are a popular choice for sprinters, middle distance and field event athletes and the preferred spike for long distance runners.

SKU: P6
Category:

Gold Carbon Lite Spikes – Pyramid 6mm

(14 customer reviews)

Carbon Lite Spikes – Pyramid 6mm are light weight performance spikes for use in competition on synthetic tracks. They are a popular choice for all athletics events and the preferred spike for long distance runners.

SKU: 6GP
Category:

6mm and 7mm are commonly used spike lengths across all events on a synthetic track. The World Athletics’ Rules also allow spikes up to 9mm in length, but this is usually altered by local rules for track events, while still allowed for field events. On grass tracks, longer spikes are generally used, with 12mm the longest length allowed in Little Athletics. For cross country, the length of spike preferred will usually be determined by the nature of the terrain. In muddy conditions, long spikes may be useful. But shorter spikes will likely provide more comfort if the course involves harder surfaces. Generally, 9mm spikes are a good choice for cross country.

Which spike style is best FOR ME?

The style of spike used by athletes is very much a matter of personal preference. However, there are some common preferences across different event types. We sell a wide range of athletics spikes to suit all athletes and surfaces.

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