“What’s up with the racewalkers? I mean, I respect them as athletes, but come on – a contest to see who can walk the fastest is like having a contest to see who can whisper the loudest.”
… so said Bob Costas during NBC’s Olympic broadcast in 2000. He might have put it a little more diplomatically, but he had a point.There are only two rules to be observed in this sport: you can’t lose contact with the ground – ever – and you can’t walk like John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch.
The first rule is the golden one of the sport, contravention of which is referred to as “lifting”. In the 2000 games in Sydney, Bernard Segura from Mexico crossed the line first in the 20km walk. He was allowed to savour his victory for a full 15 minutes before the judges announced that he had been disqualified for lifting on at least three separate occasions during the race.
It occurred to me that if you had one exceptionally long arm, and could keep it in contact with the ground at all times while you ran, you could clean up in the walks. Then I read the second rule.
The second rule (amazingly) isn’t stated in the rule book quite as I have described it above. To be exact, it states that: “The advancing leg must be straightened (i.e., not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until in the vertical upright position.”
Feel free to get up from your computer and give that a try. Essentially it’s just walking but, when you’re thinking about the action, it suddenly becomes difficult to perform. Keeping the front leg straight is the cause of the racewalker’s curious waddle that I suspect is more at the root of Bob Costas’s mockery.
Racewalking has been an Olympic sport since 1906. It was remarkably popular in Victorian times, when running was considered something one did only if one had stolen something, or was in pursuit of someone else who had. As competitive running became more popular however, competitive walking fell out of fashion. These days, it is regarded somewhat condescendingly by many who should probably know better.
Tomorrow, John Adams and I will take on the 20km walk by completing 8 laps of the University Parks. To prepare, I’ve been walking to (and occasionally from) work for the last couple of weeks, and spent most of today either asleep or eating complex carbohydrates.
The world record time of 1 hour 17.21 minutes was set in 2003 by Jefferson Pérez from Ecuador. My best man has pledged £10 to Sobell House if we can complete the course in less than twice that – 2 hours 34.42 minutes. I suspect that will be tight. If you’re in the area and fancy a laugh, we aim to start from the North Lodge at about ten o’clock.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Posted by John McClure at 10:58 pm