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Dutch researcher working on the ideal running shoe in the North of England


by Jelle Zondag | 27 August 2020

Innovations are the basis for progress in any society. As umbrella organization NOC*NSF phrases it on its website: 'sports need innovations to enable continued performances at the highest level and to surprise consumers with new technologies and possibilities'. Sports shoe developer Bodil Oudshoorn agrees. Obtaining a doctorate degree with her study of the safety of rugby shoes in 2018, she now works for a British developer of running shoes.

BodilOudshoorn-1 Bodil Oudshoorn did her doctoral research at the Centre for Sports Engineering Research of Sheffield Hallam University, following a master’s degree from the same institute and a bachelor’s degree in movement sciences from VU Amsterdam. While studying for her Master's degree, Bodil worked on a study for the World Rugby (the governing body of Rugby Union) on the methods used for testing the cleats on rugby shoes. ‘We found out that the testing method was no good. I then wrote a research proposal that was accepted by the university’, she explains how her research started.

Vague safety requirements
The cleats of rugby shoes are the cause of many injuries, and cuts in particular. In Oudshoorn’s view the safety requirements set by World Rugby for the shoes are very vague. ‘Before the match referees should check the cleats of thirty players, and then decide whether they are good to go.’ It is not just a safety issue, it is also an impediment to innovation, she goes on. ‘Shoe manufacturers like adidas, Nike and Canterbury do not invest in the innovation of rugby cleats because they might not make it to the pitch.’

Although World Rugby does test the safety of the cleats, the method is open to interpretation and misuse, Bodil believes. ‘The method prescribed by World Rugby is to drop a mass of 8.5 kg to test the cleat’s impact on a skin and muscle simulant. The material used for that simulant is not specified. It could be gelatine or any other material. This means you can tinker with the material to make the cleat pass the test.’

Many injuries and cuts were caused by stamping in the ruck – meaning players stamping on the ball and on a group of players laying on the ground

New test method
Oudshoorn developed an alternative test method. To make it as realistic as possible, she had 200 rugby players fill in questionnaires. Their responses revealed that many cuts and injuries were caused by stamping in the ruck – meaning players stamping on the ball and on a group of players laying on the ground. Oudshoorn simulated that situation, using a crash test dummy, to measure the speed and force released. She used the outcome to build her own testing device.

BodilOudshoorn-2Oudshoorn’s test method showed that safe cleats are round, not too narrow, and without any sharp edges. That finding was diametrically opposed to the outcome of the rugby federation’s test, which sometimes claimed narrow, not rounded, cleats were also safe. Moreover, not all the football shoes that many rugby players wear were safe, according to Oudshoorn’s test.

Fear for claims
After three years of research Oudshoorn took her findings to World Rugby, but the federation has still not put the results to use. ‘The federation wants as little involvement in the certification of cleats as possible, for fear of legal claims. Plus, the federation is big on red tape, and changes take a long time’, she explains. Manufacturers, on the other hand, are very enthusiastic about her new test method. ‘Manufacturers are eager to innovate, but are held back by the federation’s lack of action.’  

For many years Oudshoorn was not a bad rugby player herself but during her PhD-research she got more and more injuries. She quit and turned to long-distance running in the mountains near Sheffield. Her new passion led to her new job. ‘After my research I wanted to work for a company, not for a university. In the industry new innovations are in the store after eighteen months, not on a desk after three years of research. I sent an e-mail to inov-8, because I wear their running shoes. It so happened that they were looking for someone with a technical background. They offered me a job within the week’, she comments on her career transition.

‘We are always on the lookout for the latest innovations. That also means taking risks, and makes our jobs exciting.’

Intellectual challenge
As inov-8’s Footwear Product Manager Oudshoorn works on the development of new running and walking shoes. ‘I work on shoes that will be in the store in two years. I really enjoy that. It is an intellectual challenge. I talk to a lot of people, go into the mountains and test a great variety of shoes. We are always on the lookout for the latest innovations. That also means taking risks, and makes our jobs exciting.’


Oudshoorn knows that good off-road running shoes must satisfy a long list of criteria. ‘They should have grip on a variety of surfaces, like roads, gravel, grass, rocks and water. They should drain water, not keep it in, they should be light, and offer protection’. She concerns herself mostly with testing and developing grip. ‘Grip on rock is different than grip on grass. You don’t need cleats on rocks, but you do on grass. This is why we developed shoes that have flat soft rubber cleats. They make contact with rock, but also give traction on grass.‘

Focus on sustainability
Three weeks ago, inov-8 launched the first shoe in which Oudshoorn was involved from start to finish. ‘It was one of the most fun projects I have ever worked on’, she raves. She cannot say much yet about future projects. ‘They will be on the market in two years, I can’t give you any details yet.’ But the focus will be on sustainability. ‘The shoes that I develop should not burden the world too much.’

For more information: Introducing 'dry Grip' - dr Bodil Oudshoorn (inov-8 footwear manager); The making of the TERRAULTRA G 270


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