Skip to content

History of athletics spikes

Old 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.

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.

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 in. 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.

The Brush Spike

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

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.

IAAF Scandal

In fact, the brush spikes were banned by the IAAF and disappeared from use prior to the Mexico Olympic Games. A mark of the feud between Adidas and Puma, Adidas lobbied the IAAF to ban the spikes on the grounds that the new spikes damaged the synthetic track surface. Puma alleges that corrupt payments were made by from 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.

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

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 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.

Nike’s Air Zoom Victory Spikes

Types of track spikes

The World Athletics’s Competition Rules currently state that a shoe can have no more than 11 spikes. A number of different spike designs exist:

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

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

You can buy them below, with fast & free delivery included:

  • Sale! Athletics Gift Packs

    Competitor Pack

    $62.22 $35.95
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Sale! Essentials Pack

    Essentials Pack

    $32.33 $19.95
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Neo Pyramid Spikes 6mm

    From $11.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Pyramid Spikes

    Pyramid Spikes 6mm

    From $9.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Christmas Tree Spikes

    Christmas Tree Spikes 7mm

    From $9.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Christmas Tree Spikes 7mm Gold

    From $10.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Gold Carbon Lite Spikes - Pyramid 6mm

    Gold Carbon Lite Spikes – Pyramid 6mm

    From $10.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • 12mm Grass Spikes

    Grass Spikes 12mm

    From $9.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • 15mm Grass Spikes

    Grass Spikes 15mm

    From $9.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Blue Carbon Lite Spikes - Pyramid 6mm

    Blue Carbon Lite Spikes – Pyramid 6mm

    From $10.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Black Carbon Lite Spikes

    Black Carbon Lite Spikes – Pyramid 6mm

    From $10.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Purple Carbon Lite Spikes

    Purple Carbon Lite Spikes – Pyramid 6mm

    From $10.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • 6mm Pyramid Red Carbonlite Spikes

    Red Carbon Lite Spikes – Pyramid 6mm

    From $10.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Green and Gold Spikes

    Green & Gold Carbon Lite Spikes – Pyramid 6mm – Limited Edition

    From $10.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Personalise your spikes

    Personalise your spikes! Carbon Lite Spikes – Pyramid 6mm

    From $10.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • 9mm Pyramid Spikes

    Pyramid Spikes 9mm – Field & Cross Country Spikes

    From $9.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Jumps Spikes

    Jumps Spikes 9mm

    From $9.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Spike Key

    Spike Key

    $5.95
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Sale! Train and Race Combo - Pyramid Spikes

    Train and Race Combo – Pyramid Spikes 6mm

    From $20.98 From $18.99
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Elastic Shoe Laces

    $6.95
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Red Flat Shoe Laces

    Flat Shoe Laces – 8mm – 120cm

    $4.49
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Red Flat Shoe Laces

    Flat Shoe Laces – 8mm – 150cm

    $4.49
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Oval Shoe Laces – 6mm – 120cm

    $4.49
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Round Shoe Laces – 4mm – 120cm

    $4.49
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • 12mm Grass Spikes

    Bulk purchase – 12mm Grass Spikes

    From $137.50
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Pyramid Spikes

    Bulk purchase – 6mm Pyramid Spikes

    From $137.50
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Christmas Tree Spikes

    Bulk purchase – 7mm Christmas Tree Spikes

    From $137.50
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Personalise your spikes

    Bulk purchase – 6mm Carbon Lite Spikes

    From $150.00
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Ultralite Performance No Show Socks

    $8.00
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Ultralite Performance No Show Socks

    Ultralite Performance No Show Socks – 2 Pack

    $14.95
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Ultralite Performance No Show Socks

    Ultralite Performance No Show Socks – 3 Pack

    $19.95
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Freedom Feeling Ankle Socks

    $8.00
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Freedom Feeling Ankle Socks – 2 Pack

    $14.95
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
  • Freedom Feeling Ankle Socks – 3 Pack

    $19.95
    Estimated delivery by Monday 30 May
0
YOUR CART
  • No products in the cart.