The Race Walk

With the 2012 Olympics kicking off in a couple of days I thought it would be fitting to share this little gem.  Of all of the events that we will all be enthralling ourselves in over the next couple of weeks there is one sporting event that probably doesn’t get enough credit for the amount of grueling and strenuous training athletes must undergo in an effort compete at the highest level – Race Walking.  That’s right; you walk as fast as you can for a gold medal and national glory.  Here’s how it works:

The basics

In Race Walk events, an athlete must (to the human eye) be in contact with the ground at all times, unlike in running events, where both feet are momentarily off the ground. The leading leg must be straight from the moment it is first in contact with the ground, and the technique looks very different to ordinary walking. Athletes must be incredibly disciplined to fight the urge to break into a run for extra speed.

The Race Walk events start and finish at The Mall. Athletes race over a 2km loop, taking them up The Mall towards Buckingham Palace, around the Victoria Memorial and up Constitution Hill towards Hyde Park Corner before returning to complete the loop.

Competition format

The Race Walk events are all straight finals – the first athlete to cross the finish line is the winner. 

Keys to success

Athletes need incredible amounts of stamina, endurance and mental strength. The pace is punishing and winning athletes must combine their speed and discipline right to the finish.

Breaking the rules

Judges are stationed at points along the course and will be looking closely at the athletes’ technique. If a judge is unhappy about any aspect, they will show a yellow paddle to the athlete as a warning. If an athlete is clearly not complying with the rules, the judge will show a red paddle. If an athlete is shown three red paddles by three different judges they are disqualified.

Just so we’re clear, I repeat, you can win a gold medal for this.  If Race Walking is an Olympic event I think we should petition to get kickball in as well; maybe in another couple hundred years or so.  The times to beat in Race Walking you might ask?  Here you go:

Men’s World Record in 20 km – 1:17:16

Men’s Olympic Record in 20 km – 1:18:59

Men’s World Record in 50 km – 3:34:14

Men’s Olympic Record in 50 km – 3:37:09

Women’s World Record in 20 km – 1:25:08

Women’s Olympic Record in 20 km – 1:26:31

One glorious Sunday evening after kickball out at the Douglas County Fair Grounds I bring up Race Walking as the “must see” event of the Olympics.  To my surprise, of the handful of people I was hanging out with, there was a nationally competitive Race Walker in my midst, Robyn Cottin.  I shit you not.  I wasn’t sure whether to ask for an autograph or get a celebrity picture or both.  Instead I decided to play it cool and asked her to demonstrate the technique.  She immediately obliged and next thing you know everyone was Race Walking all over the place.  Here is what resulted:

The Technique


The Race


After reviewing the tape and talking to my coach I’ve decided that Race Walking is not my strong suit.  However, if I ever have children I might become a strict disciplinarian in the art of Race Walking (and probably Curling – never hurts to double dip right?) in the hope that one day Marshall will be synonymous with gold medal winning Race Walker (or Curler, or both).

I highly recommend going to the website at the bottom of this post and familiarizing yourself with the sport.  Check out the course they walk described above as well.  I mean, they start and finish at “The Mall”.  You can’t make this stuff up.  Okay, so you start out at the mall, make your way down to the food court at Buckingham Palace, make a couple of returns at the Victoria Memorial, head up Constitutional Hill towards Hyde Park Corner en route  to Mister Bulky’s, and then loop around towards the food court again for a slice of Sbarro’s pizza on your way back to the mall entrance, and repeat.

It’s awesome, it’s exciting, and it’s only days away.

London 2012 Race Walking Official Event Page