Why Do Runners Still Race With Paper Pinned to Their Shirts?

“I like collecting my bibs,” said Nell Rojas, a professional long-distance runner. She also likes that they help spectators cheer runners on by name, as the last name of professional runners is often plastered across their bibs.

In marathon racing, bibs are a matter of practicality. When thousands or tens of thousands of runners are competing in a race, there is a need for a standardized disposable tracking system like RFID tags. The technology signals the runners’ location along a course when they cross over mats placed throughout the race.

Still, Rojas thinks the bibs, and their size, could use a redesign. “Bibs keep getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “They surpass the sports bra.”

When an athlete is trying to focus on performing at their best, the bibs are a distraction, said Michael Johnson, the four-time Olympic gold medalist. He also felt the bibs signaled a lack of professionalism at the highest level of the sport: “the fastest, most efficient athletes in the world are competing with a piece of paper safety-pinned on,” Johnson said. “It just reeks of amateurism.” Even replacing the safety pins with an adhesive material would be a step in the right direction, he added.

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