John Kagwe

Jenny Simpson
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Five memorable shoe malfunctions in track and field

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When Eliud Kipchoge‘s insoles starting flapping out of his Nikes less than halfway to winning Sunday’s Berlin Marathon, it marked another in a long line of footwear failures in major track and field racing.

Here’s a list of five other memorable instances from the Olympics and Olympic-level competition:

1. Jenny Simpson, 2015 World Championships 1500m final

Simpson, the 2011 World champion in the event, was undone after the heel of her teal left New Balance shoe got caught and partially slipped off while making a move about halfway through the race (video here).

“Pretty intense jostling, and that’s where I started to lose half of it,” Simpson told Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports. “I was clinching my toes as hard as possible.”

Simpson gave up and kicked the shoe off with about 600 meters left while trailing only eventual winner Genzebe Dibaba.

“Of all things in my mind, what I was thinking was I didn’t want to kick it into the crowd of people and take anyone else out,” she said. “It was terrible for me, but I didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s race.”

Runners quickly passed her, and Simpson was in eighth place as the bell rang for the final lap. Simpson’s thoughts turned to preserving her foot for future races as the track ripped skin.

“It’s not that it’s so intensely painful that you can’t keep running, but it’s for training,” Simpson told Johnson on Universal Sports. “You can’t run on a foot that doesn’t have skin. … As everyone went by me, I just thought, I’ll get them next week.”

2. Ajee’ Wilson, 2015 U.S. Championships 800m final

Wilson, the world’s fastest 800m runner in 2014 and second fastest in 2015 going into the race, lost her right Adidas shoe while jostling for the lead near the start of the final curve with 200 meters to go, saying she got clipped (race video here).

Wilson persevered and grabbed third place by .04 of a second while running with one shoe on. The top three finishers earned berths on the World Championships team.

“I didn’t really have time to think,” Wilson, who later withdrew from Worlds due to a leg injury, told media after the race. “It kind of was halfway on, so I wiggled it off.”

3. John Kagwe, 1997 New York City Marathon

The Kenyan Kagwe was running on Nike Air Vengeance shoes he had bought at an expo the day before. He triple-knotted them, but the right shoe untied three times during the race.

Kagwe won the 26.2-mile race, but he missed the then-course record by 11 seconds, surely because twice he stopped to retie his right shoe. When it untied the third time, he decided to run the last four miles with the laces flapping in the wind.

“I said forget it, if my shoe falls off, I keep running,” Kagwe said, according to Newsday.

Nike later paid him the $10,000 bonus he would have been due had he broken the course record.

4. Moses Tanui/Quincy Watts/Mark Croghan, 1993 World Championships

The Kenyan Tanui led Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie going into the final of 25 laps in Stuttgart, Germany, when Gebrselassie clipped Tanui’s left heel (video here).

Tanui realized it almost immediately, waved his arms, flung his left shoe off and tried to sprint away from Gebrselassie. But the Ethiopian caught and passed Tanui in the final stretch for the first of his four straight World titles in the 10,000m.

Tanui pushed Gebrselassie after the race and waved his shoe in the Ethiopian’s face. A Kenyan protest was rejected.

“I could not grab the last lap the way I wanted,” Tanui said on CBC while carrying a Kenyan flag and still wearing one shoe. “If I had my shoes, he would not beat me.”

Also in those World Championships, one of then-reigning U.S. Olympic 400m champion Watts’ shoes fell apart during the one-lap final (video here). He ended up fourth.

“When I tried the shoes on in warm-ups, I kept hearing this funny popping sound,” Watts said, according to the USC athletics website. “I checked my spikes and everything was tight and nothing was loose. So then once the race started I realized, ‘Hm, after the first 100, I’m normally in better position and I’m not catching these guys, and not only am I not catching these guys, they’re actually moving away from me!’

“And then all of a sudden I hear this flapping sound again, and I look down and I see my shoe opening and closing, flapping like a banana peel at the bottom. And I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s my shoe.’ And at that point with about 140 meters to go, I just sucked it up and gave everything I had.”

Finally, U.S. Olympic steeplechaser Croghan had an insole come apart after the first water jump of his final in Stuttgart. Croghan finished fifth in a personal-best time. Croghan, like Tanui and Watts, wore Nikes, though Croghan had replaced his insoles with ones he had purchased in a local store, according to The Associated Press.

5. Abebe Bikila, 1960 Olympic marathon

Bikila was a late replacement onto the Ethiopian team for the 26.2-mile race. In Rome, Bikila’s team-issued shoes did not fit comfortably, so he ran barefoot and won the first of his two straight Olympic marathon titles (video here).

Bikila, who had previously trained barefoot, was the first East African to win an Olympic medal. His second title at Tokyo 1964 came with shoes.

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