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Wejo Speaks: Spira Shoes Attempting to Make a Mockery of the Boston Marathon
by: Weldon Johnson
April 17, 2007

Update from Wejo: David Monti is reporting today (4/17) that USATF is saying that Spira shoes are not banned. Thus Spira's lawsuit against USATF, all its press from the last 2 years appears to be a groundless if the report is accurate. USATF should have stated this years ago, but call us naive, it seems lawyers operate in fear. Spira should be ashamed for misrepresenting the situation if USATF had not banned the shoes. I  received an email from someone who wishes to remain anonymous who was in contact with the Foot Solutions runners who led Boston for the first half of the race and he was told they "had" to go Boston for publicity reasons (the implication being not to finish the race) and were not happy about it.

If you look at the Boston marathon results, you wouldn't notice that for half of the Boston Marathon, one company attempted to ruin my favorite Monday of the year and to make a mockery of our sport and its rules, all for a little self promotion.

The weather was horrible in Boston and Monday. Rainy and windy. The gun goes off and boom 2 guys in matching uniforms open up a huge lead on the pack of contenders who were taking it cautiously in the bad weather. They are two guys I've never seen before or heard of. The announcers, Larry Rawson and Al Trautwig, are a bit perplexed and trying to explain what is going on. But watching the race 200 miles away in NYC, I almost instantaneously say, "I bet they're Spira shoes guy."

30 seconds later and thanks to google, I've got my answer.

The two guys in front were Jared Nyamboki and Josphat Ongeri both listed in the Spira news release as athletes who would be running in the Spira shoes. They had on matching Foot Solutions singlets, and matching yellow shoes that appeared to be Spira shoes. And as expected both runners faded over the second half of he race and dropped out, and thankfully the runners using banned technology did not compromise the integrity of the race too much. (Although they made for terrible television for the serious fan of the sport).

In case you don't know about Spira, they are the maker of a running shoe that uses springs to supposedly help cushion the blow to the runners. The problem for Spira is that shoes with springs are outlawed by USA Track and Field (USATF) and hence the Boston Marathon which conducts its races under the auspices of USATF rules.

The rules of the game and the integrity of the sport appear to be of little concern to Spira and its president Andy Krafsur, as Spira bragged for the 2nd straight year how its runners would race in the banned shoes. Before the race, Krafsur tried to pretend his guys were top contenders in the race, "All seven men are world-class runners with marathon times at 2 hours, 20 minutes or below (editor's note: a 2:20 marathon is a world class time for a woman not a man. And perhaps Spira when it is doing its publicity stunt should learn to count. It's press release and Mr. Krafsur mention 7 Spira athletes, but then if you bother to count them up there's actually 8 listed by name) . I would not be surprised if we have five guys in the top 15," Krafsur told the El Paso Times. Well, Andy none of your guys were rightfully considered top contenders before the race and none of your guys (from what we can tell looking at the results) were in the top 15. Of the 8 runners you listed a running, I see Tamrat Ayalew (2:28:46, 42nd), Oleg Strijakov (2:28:55, 44th) and Birhanu Wukaw (2:36:56, 93rd) as the only 3 finishers. (More on Strijakov later who ended up winning the Masters division).

But most importantly, Spira flagrantly violated a rule designed to insure an even playing field and fair play. If Spira wants its shoes to get approved for use in competitions by USATF and the IAAF then it can continue in its proceedings to get that done. But until the shoes are approved, they, like performance enhancing drugs, corked bats in baseball, and certain metal drivers in golf are banned for use in competition. If Spira doesn't like the rules, it can try and get them changed, but don't make a mockery of our sport.

But based on their actions, it appears Spira and Foot Solutions do not really care if the rules get changed. They want one thing - publicity - under the guise that any publicity is good publicity. This is the second straight year Spira has tried to make a name for itself by bragging about breaking Boston's rules. They can do this because Boston is a race open to the masses, where generally any runner who qualifies can run.

Well, it is time Boston and other race directors around the world stand up to Spira and the Foot Solutions combo. International race directors can make sure to not invite runners who say they will flagrantly break the rules and run in Spira shoes. Non invitational races like Boston, can announce there will be a pre-race shoe check (they do this at track races at the Armory for sure it can be done for the elites at Boston). Assuming Spira shoes are still banned, any athlete in Spira shoes should be escorted from the course. Spira may disagree with the rules of fair competition, but that does not mean that some athletes get a free pass to violate them. If a major leaguers wants to use a metal bat, he can't just go up there and use one to promote some minor league metal bat company.

I know many of you likely think I'm giving Spira exactly what they want, publicity, and are saying "Wejo, who really cares?" I just think someone needs to take a stand know and take action against Spira. Otherwise, it appears we are quickly heading down the slippery slope of letting the integrity of our sport be compromised. And if there is just one thing we have shown to take seriously on this site, with our calls for more stringent drug testing, it is the integrity of the sport. Having athletes in the race using a technology that is outlawed jeopardizes the fairness of the competition. Thankfully the top athletes pretty much ignored the Spira front-runners. Imagine if they hadn't and imagine if say Mr. Nyamboki stayed into the lead yesterday into the 20th mile. Some athletes in the chase back might go racing after him, rig up and die. Another athlete, perhaps thinking Nyamboki will be DQd for violating the rules, does not worry about him, and stays back saving his energy. Either way, the outcome is changed thanks to Spira deciding that it does not believe in following the rules of the sport. It is even more compromised if Mr. Nyamboki was instructed to just hold onto the lead as long as possible solely for publicity sake (I have no idea if this is the case but was my first assumption and apparently CNBC talked about the two leading wearing Spira shoes even though Spira thankfully was never mentioned on the US telecast, seemingly supporting the idea it might have been a publicity stunt as obviously someone told CNBC of the shoes) and had no intention of finishing.

And that brings us to the athletes in the race wearing the Spira shoes. We have some sympathy for the Foot Solution athletes because they are trying to make a living in this sport and their sponsor, Foot Solutions, appears to be urging them to wear these outlawed shoes and perhaps the athletes think the shoes do not give them an unfair advantage. But they too must pay the price because as athletes we can not pick and choose which ruled dealing with fair competition we can ignore. And while none of the Spira athletes finished in the top 15, Oleg Strijakov, who finished 44th overall in 2:28:55 amazingly ended up being the first masters (40 yrs and up) finisher (normally the top masters runs way faster). And the first master's winner in Boston earns a huge master's pay day of $10,000. Boston needs to do the right thing and disqualify Mr. Strijakov (even if this probably what Spira wants Boston to do so it can get more publicity). If Boston can not disqualify Mr. Strijackov because an athlete did not report the shoes as supposedly required according to this thread, then we hope Boston pays out the prize money to the other masters athletes as if Mr. Strijakov was DQd.

It is time we and Boston call Spira's bluff. We can let them make a mockery of the rules of our sport and the integrity of the Boston marathon or we can hold them accountable. I urge that race directors start holding them accountable BEFORE their races actually start. In the meantime, consumers can think twice about buying Spira products or shopping at Foot Solutions in the future.

Thankfully, Spira was not able to ruin my favorite Monday of the year.

Wejo who has run 28:06 for 10k and currently is hobbling around Ithaca, NY on crutches thanks to a stress fracture of the navicular which he has had for at least a year and a half (but didn't know). Only if he had been training in Spira shoes. He can be reached at

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