World Champion Sprinter Refines Technique to Beat Her Own Time; Nike Refines Running Shoes in 3D Print


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download (16)Founded in 1964, it would seem that over the years Nike has only continued to pick up the momentum in a fierce market driven by constant customer demand and sports and fashion trends. I discovered their running shoes when I was in middle school, and have been a fan ever since. Most of my miles are either on the treadmill or on pleasant walks and it takes a while for me to wear a pair of shoes out. But at that point, shopping is simple. I know which style and size I feel comfortable in, and it just comes down to picking a color—which today can be a bit overwhelming. Are we going for young and vibrant, flashy and stylish, or just the headed-to-the-gym neutral look?

One very important Nike customer, however, is undeniably going for the all-in, give-it-everything-you’ve-got look. And while the aesthetics are pretty awesome, they are the least of her worries. That part comes at the end as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce doesn’t so much look forward to shoe shopping, but shoe building. The Nike team is with her the whole way too, certainly invested in watching the Jamaican Olympian sprint over the finish line in a pair of shoes bearing that familiar swoosh. But the inner workings of those particular shoes are quite complex—and appropriately so—built by a company that’s used to making firsts, for a woman who also is responsible for doing so from the Olympics to a multitude of other competitions, and using a technology that’s famous for creating many things no one ever considered: 3D printing. And in the case of these magical running shoes, it was 3D print, 3D print again, and keep 3D printing until the product is perfect, resulting in the Nike Zoom Superfly Elite.


[Image: Wikipedia / Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce]

More than just a runner, Fraser-Pryce is a one-of-a-kind woman, gold Olympian, athlete, and history maker. Perhaps the best female sprinter of all time—and a stride rate runner—she’s known for her accelerated bursts followed by unprecedented stamina that sends her over the finish line ahead of the competition time and time again.

With the goal to break her best record, aspiring to take one-tenth of a second off of her best time, the ‘Pocket Rocket,’ as she is known at home, was experiencing fatigue at one specific point of her race. This was what Nike sought to solve with a new shoe, as well as helping the women’s 100-meter sprint current world champion to strive further with her time and stay in first. This meant refining every detail possible.

“If you look at the majority of the female athletes who are competing, we all have speed,” Fraser-Pryce, 29, explained to Nike. “When four or five or six or eight of us are in a race closely together, it will come down to who will break in terms of technique.”

“It wasn’t natural for me to run the way I run. I learned my techniques,” she explains.

And while apparel is certainly a peripheral item compared to how Fraser-Pryce must push her body to do the work, certainly the feet need all the umph they can get as they hit the ground. With technology becoming more and more advanced, we see athletes becoming involved in the process of designing the clothes and footwear to win. They aren’t just dressing for the field. Everything they put on their bodies—veritable machines—is like a strategic tool. Recently we reported on Tom Dumoulin, a pro bicycle racer from the Netherlands, who had both his team and university researchers behind him using 3D scanning and 3D printing to create a skinsuit for an important and recent race that he ultimately won. The key is in technique, yes, but if the sportswear can help shave off any time at all, the most competitive teams will certainly research that and create any improvements possible. That extra effort, along with the psychology of added confidence, may very likely be what allows for a win.


Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at Nike’s NSRL (Nike Sports Research Lab). [Photo: Nike News]

Delving into far more than just creating a pair of shoes, the Nike team also wanted to create a sprint spike for Fraser-Pryce. Noting that her weakness was fatigue at a 10-meter point in between 70 and 80 meters during the 100-meter sprint, they began researching how to give her body a boost via energy return.

“To optimize that coveted rebound off the track (pushing Fraser-Pryce past fatigue), the group sought to deliver the ideal plate stiffness for the sprinter’s power and foot size,” states Nike News.

Before the team studied Fraser-Pryce however, they did something we see quite often in 3D innovation, as well as many inventions throughout time. They studied speed in nature. We’ve reported on numerous other accounts of this, from researchers examining butterfly wings to improve on 3D printing in electronics to 3D printed salamanders for helping paraplegics; here however, the team studied ocean organisms, as they sought a mesh sole structure that would offer lightweight material with the appropriate stiffness to help carry their athlete through that short phase of fatigue on the track. The focus on ocean organisms was to help find inspiration for natural movement and speed but with the desired firmness in material.

The Nike design team began with a 3D printed prototype for testing and then produced a range of plates for the shoe offering varying degrees of stiffness. The idea was to allow for her natural range of motion but to increase ‘secondary traction.’ The use of fixed pins allowed for the quality the Nike team sought in being able to help keep Fraser-Pryce’s feet as close to the track as possible, applying propulsive force as efficiently as possible.


An early iteration of the 3D printed outsole, bearing the athlete’s signature. [Image: Nike News]

They refined the customized design for Fraser-Pryce until it was perfect—meaning that she was able to show real results on the track.

“The beauty of the design doesn’t end with Fraser-Pryce’s times or the plate’s bewitching aesthetic. Thanks to its method of creation, scaling the innovation to meet the individual needs of runners of all sizes, and distances, it is not only feasible, it’s fast,” says Nike News.

The result is a shoe that allows Fraser-Pryce to sprint down the track .013 seconds faster—a serious time advantage.

“Each shoe is more than the sum of its parts; it’s a cohesive acceleration system,” stated Nike News.


The Nike Zoom Superfly Elite. Note the sole of the shoe, demonstrating the inspiration from oceanic forms. [Image: Nike News]

As Fraser-Pryce sprints toward another achievement, another first, she realizes how much scrutiny she is subjecting herself to. While perhaps a new and stressful challenge, that’s also part of the excitement.

“It’s fuel for you as an athlete,” she says. “You say, ‘Okay. The world is coming.’ And if the world is coming, what do you do? You prepare. And then, when the time comes, you go to war. And when the war is finished, you’ll stand victorious.”

What do you think of the lengths all involved went to have these Nikes made? Discuss further in the 3D Printed Nikes forum over at

[Source: Nike News; psfk]
final shoe

[Image: Nike News]


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