Five #Altfacts about Race Walking


This article was submitted by Michael Roth with relevance to the Race Walk Survey that was sent out to coaches.  Roth is a 3x National Race Walk Champion, Master Level Race Walk Referee, Coach of over 40 National Champions, USATF Certified Coach, Webmaster of HSRW.net and a Correspondent for Track & Field News.

The event of Race Walking is commonly treated poorly by much of the establishment within track & field. Most of this poor treatment comes from a general lack of knowledge about the event itself and is perpetuated by juvenile behavior on message boards and occasionally on television broadcasts. Very rarely is it the case that someone, who has an open mind and has taken the time to learn the truth about the event, will continue to poorly treat the event and it's athletes.

What are these #Altfacts and what is the truth behind them?

#Altfacts:

1.     Race Walking is a difficult event to learn and/or coach.

2.     Race Walking is a difficult event to officiate.

3.     Race Walkers are not athletes.

4.     Race Walking does not belong in Track & Field.

5.     Race Walking will add too much time to the event schedule.

Below I will deal with each of these items and present the clear truth to you.

1.     Race Walking is a difficult event to learn and/or coach.

In most instances, when someone sees something new, it looks difficult and almost magical, as you don't know how other people accomplish what they are doing. Race Walking suffers from this, as it is new to most people, even within Track & Field. Really, it is no different than teaching a runner to hurdle. You are taking a basic movement and adding specialized tasks to accomplish a resulting task. The primary focus in learning/coaching Race Walking is getting the athlete to straighten (lock) the knee when the foot makes contact with the ground and keep it that way as long as possible, but at the least until it is behind the hips while in single support (on one leg). This is done by teaching/doing the same mechanics you perform/teach runners. Dorsiflexion of the ankle at all times, except during toe off, will accomplish this task. Drilling this one cue into your athletes should be the primary focus of technique training for the event. Any coach can teach this and most any athlete can learn it.

2.     Race Walking is a difficult event to officiate.

Race Walking, in a vast majority of races where HS or Youth aged athletes are involved, is not done at a high rate of speed, like one would see with Olympic level athletes. Even the athletes medaling in National Championships at this level are still moving at a pace where it is easy to identify whether they are following the rules. This is the same as what officials experience in the 4x100 relay exchanges as well. While the athletes are talented and moving quickly for their level of competition, observant officials can easily identify when a baton is passed out of the zone. That level of observation is all that is needed to identify Race Walkers who are not within the rules of the event. Over 95% of the violations that will occur in a HS or Youth aged Race Walk event will be for a Bent Knee. This is caused by one of two issues. Either the athlete has not learned to dorsiflex the ankle properly to lock the knee or they are too fatigued to do so. In either case, it is very easy to see when an athlete is walking with Bent Knees. Like any other specialty for officials, working alongside more experienced people and comparing notes, will give inexperienced officials confidence in making violation calls on athletes outside the rules. In my experience, observant officials can be comfortable after only 2-3 races at this level of competition.

Another objection is that there are not enough people to act as officials. This is simply not true. The same individuals who work the 4x100 relay zones (usually coaches from each team) are capable and available to work in this capacity. With the rules requiring 3 officials for a legal event and 3 disqualification calls (each from separate officials) to remove an athlete, as long as there is balance of officials representing each team, no biased calls to affect the team scoring or qualifying performance achievement is likely to occur.

3.     Race Walkers are not athletes.

Everyone who competes is an athlete. Not everyone is blessed with the same level of talent in their DNA. Many athletes are also put into events that do not suit their inherent talents. Having coached for over 30 years, I have seen this across every event in the sport. Success in one event does not mean that athlete's skills will translate to another. This does not lessen their standing as an "athlete". It just means that their skills are best used in one particular event type. Race Walking is one of two technical endurance events. The other is the Steeplechase. It requires more than just endurance and speed, but also relies heavily on mastering a specific movement pattern to move as efficiently as possible. Competitors who can master this technique possess much higher level motor learning abilities than most endurance runners, as their brain and central nervous system is able to relay a complicated program of movement to the muscles that must be followed exactly. This level of performance, by scientific standards, makes them better athletes than any other endurance event in the sport.

4.     Race Walking does not belong in Track & Field.

Race Walking actually predates what we call Track & Field. It was the first organized athletic competition in the 1800s. All of the rest of the modern sport grew out of those events. The event has been a part of the Olympic program virtually from the beginning as well. The beginning of what became the Decathlon also had a Race Walk event within it, but it was replaced with the 1500m run, as the Decathletes found it too hard at the end of 2 days to then Race Walk. Race Walking was contested across the nation in the NCAA at Conference Championship levels through the late 1970s, even including being a part of the IC4A Championship, which at the time was more prestigious than the NCAA meet. The last 2 Olympic & World Championship medalists from the USA both competed for their NCAA schools as Race Walkers (Larry Young at Columbia College - Bronze Medal 1972 Olympic 50km & Curt Clausen at Duke University - Bronze Medal 1999 World Championship 50km). The AAU (former version and current) and USATF contest it at all levels of the sport. The NAIA has had a Race Walk event since the 1980s. Both the World Military Games and World University Games, which the US sends athletes, contests a Race Walk.

5.     Race Walking will add too much time to the event schedule.

In the states that contest the event as a part of the HS event schedule (NY and Maine), their regular season, invitational and championship competitions take no longer than the meets in any other state. How is this case, if there is one more event? Simply, the athletes competing in the Race Walk are not competing in another race. Whether scheduled first, while other athletes are warming up for a relay, or when the hurdles are being setup, the event is going on when nothing else of consequence is occurring. Even with the slowest of fields, this is a 12 minute race when contested at the mile distance. As is common practice in dual/tri meets, endurance events are combined gender races to save time. This would be no different.

Comments