October 21: Two weeks ago, as the Russian government was aiming to steer history by trying to reduce the tension between Israel and Palestine in West Asia, history from below was being created in its backyard, at the rundown Salavat Ulayev sports stadium, in Moscow. The fastest boots in the world were being tested out under the watchful gaze of a ‘Sunday Times’ journalist.

These Boots are meant for Flying!
These Boots are meant for Flying! [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
Chief boot tester Atanov was getting ready to race Russia’s 1,500 metre national champion, 22-year-old Alexei Ivanov, to see if the stilt-like petrol-powered and turbo-charged boots would enable him to take strides nine feet long, past the athlete.

Each boot weighs more than 41 pounds, says a recent ‘Sunday Times’ report in the ‘The Times of India’. It consists of a black leather sports shoe that is fixed between two pistons tied to the calf with straps. The power is provided by a diesel mixture in a tiny fuel tank, complete with a carburettor and a spark plug.

The principle is simple. As soon as the wearer takes a step, the piston fires, lifting up the foot higher and propelling him or her up into the air.

In the making for more than 30 years by a group of aircraft engineers, the boots started as a joke, says the report. Young men undergoing military training got so weary of the tough routine that they fantasised about petrol-powered boots that would enable them to glide smoothy without a frown on their face.

They made this request to Boris Rudoy, who worked at the Soviet State Avaiation Technological University in Ufa, about 750 miles off Moscow, says the report.

The initial boots weighed more than 221 pounds each! Rudoy kept refining the model to make it lighter and of greater use. Fascinated, the army bought some pairs to test them out.

Those were days of the Cold War, when the whole world was divided into two camps deeply distrustful of each other – the American camp and the Soviet camp. Rather than risk outright battles or wars, they fought silently, with spies. And, possibly, the flying boots seemed a good idea.

Rudoy, now 58, is very optimistic about the boots. By wearing them it is possible to cut down physical effort by almost 60 per cent, he is quoted as saying. This means that an individual can cope with long-distance running more effectively than a fit person.

The idea seems to have caught the fancy of a visiting London businessman, Jim Campbell, who thinks that with further improvements it could become a craze just like roller skates. He has ordered a pair with the intention of selling this idea to investors who are willing to put their money where his mouth is.

Oh! And do you want to know the result of the Ivanov and boot tester Atanov’s race of the millennium? Ivanov’s prestige as the national champion stayed intact, though Atanov succeeded in taking long strides. Clearly, since he was used to the boots, he was able to take long strides.

With each step, a little puff of smoke came out along with a big sound. But then it was a small price to pay for the “intoxicating sensation similar to flying” that Atanov said he felt.

Who knows, the boots may actually start a “flying” club soon in London consisting of giggling teenagers and adventurous adults. It is not quite clear what the former Soviet Union may have looked forward to, but clearly, the times have changed. And the boot may soon be on the other foot.