30 Aug

Time For Race Walking To Jog On?

Race walkers

Is it time for race walking to be removed from the Olympic programme, asks regular contributor Chris Broadbent.

I am a huge fan of athletics and so, I found London’s World Athletics Championships a hugely enjoyable occasion. Although there were no world records, there were some memorable contests across 10 days in the English capital.

As an endurance runner, I particularly enjoy the middle and long distance races, but I am also able to quite happily enjoy anything from the pole vault to the hammer. But, there is one event I can no longer speak up for. I just can’t pretend anymore.

Apologies to the small, but passionate advocates of race walking, but I simply cannot take it seriously anymore. Surely as the sport looks to modernise it is time to consign race walking to the Olympic dustbin alongside rope climbing, swimming obstacle racing and two-handed javelin throwing.

Of course, it is ripe for ridicule given the strange techniques, straight out of a Monty Python sketch, to ensure that at least one foot is touching the ground at all times.

I also recognise that the walkers are dedicated and super fit. But I can no longer accept it as a true test of the greatest levels of athleticism. An American journalist I once knew described it as “like a competition to see who can whisper the loudest". For me, that pretty much nails it.

Every other event in athletics, the competitors are straining, stretching every sinew to be the fastest, highest, strongest. Not in race walk, where they have to confine and restrict their efforts within the parameters of walking. They can be – and frequently are – disqualified for both feet leaving the ground enabling them to move quicker.

Can you imagine Mo Farah or Usain Bolt having to employ the same technique as all their rivals, effectively levelling the playing field by restricting their athletic brilliance?

Can we really consider race walkers the absolute elite of endurance sport? Leading nations Kenya, Ethiopia, USA and Great Britain have few – if any competitors at the top level. It cannot be because they do not have an abundance of talented athletes who could potentially be world class. No, it is that race walking simply lacks credibility.

Dare I say it, but are world and Olympic race walkers athletes who are simply not good enough to make it as runners?

Sorry race walking, but it’s time to take a hike.


  1. John Borgars said...

    As an ex-marathoner, good enough to get a place in the London until I tore a hamstring doing the long jump, I can tell you that the physical demands of race walking (ignoring the technical demands) are far greater than those of running a similar distance: for me personally a 10km Walk required more effort (and took nearly as long) as a 10 mile run.
    So YES we really can consider the best race walkers (not me, just the best ones) the absolute elite of endurance sport.

  2. William SUTHERLAND said...

    I can truly sympathise and agree with much of what the writer says as where True Race Walking has lost its way big time is it's credibility. I was an International Race Walker from 1968-1972 during which I won a Bronze Medal in the 20 miles Walk in the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. Things were very different then as races were judged strictly by heel and toe walking action with a positive locking of the knee. Today's walking is just short strides, low contact with the ground and very minimum knee lock and therefore it is now just developed into running. The rules of the Sport at International level are no longer able to control the excessive speeds and the red card system is far too lenient. Groups pass 30 to 40 in number and it is impossible to judge by the human eye. One can only walk so fast and remain in contact with the ground. With great sadness I , who have spent over 54 years of my life as an great Race Walking enthusiast can no longer watch what we are seeing today which was perceived to be Race Walking and therefore would not attend the recent World Championships in the Mall. The only way to sort the current mess out is WITH TECHNOLOGY! Thank you for your valued opinion.

  3. John Constandinou said...

    If the author had attended the walks on The Mall he would have seen the highest expression of athleticism and truly appreciated it just like the 15,000 spectators who attended on the day, providing roars of support to competitors from more countries than any other event had at the Championship. Rather, he judges and condemns it casually from his armchair.

    Contrary to what is stated, there WAS a World Record set at the World Championships - and coincidentally in the race walk. Not paying attention Chris?

    Whispering is to talk quietly, so "Whispering the loudest" implies that walking is simply running slowly - a silly comparison.

    "Not good enough to make it as runners"?! I am a lowly race walker but have beaten many thousands of runners of the years when I walked in running races, and earned the respect of all runners.

    And finally, how can he condemn an event which requires a specific technique, when so do pole vault, high jump, hammer, javelin, etc?

    If Chris Broadbent is open minded, he is welcome to come and see the Festival of Racewalking in Hillingdon on 1st October. He would be made most welcome, and we look forward to converting him into a race walking fan like many runners before him.

  4. Peter Cassidy said...

    It is difficult to see the point of the argument about Usain Bolt and Mo Farah having to use the same technique as their rivals; since the object of running is to go as fast as possible without mechanical aid (to such an extent that the number of spikes in the shoes is limited), they are all on a level (freestyle) footing. It might be worth stressing, by the way, that (expanding on John Constandinou's point) shot-putters are severely and peculiarly limited in their technique. (See I.A.A.F. Rule 188(1).) No doubt greater distances could be achieved by freestyle throwing. As to whether there is sense in trying to go fast and then introducing difficulties, it is, on the face of it, nonsensical to set out to swim as fast as possible and then to impose the necessity in some races of doing it backwards, yet no-one, I imagine, would propose abolishing the backstroke. Similarly, boxing could perhaps be made more interesting without the requirement that the contestants in a bout should be of approximately the same weight. There are many instances in sport where imposed restrictions make the game harder - not handling the ball in football, not passing forward in rugby, not tripping the opposition with your stick in hockey, for example. It is the existence of limiting rules such as those mentioned that distinguishes one sport from another. Without such distinctions there would be only one sport, All-in Mayhem.
    As to how well the rules are enforced, which is the substance of Bill Sutherland's complaint, that is another matter that may - or may not - be resolved by the use of the much-vaunted but not yet reliable mechanical aids.
    John suggests that Chris Broadbent should come to the Festival of Walking on the 1st October. I second this invitation; I shall be Chief Judge and I shall be happy to try to explain what is going on from the point of view of technique.

  5. William SUTHERLAND said...

    Whilst I fully appreciate the relevant points made by John Constandinou and Peter Cassidy both have missed the most important point of all, which is 'Was what was viewed TRUE RACE WALKING or RACE RUNNING perceived by many to be Walking when it is not'. If you view the excellent photograph in the Athletics Weekly of the leaders at Rio or recently in the Mall it must be quite plain to the majority that this most certainly is not Walking. In fact the South African Leader near the end in the Mall has by far the safest action and admirable style yet he could not keep up with the Winners on the Podium who just ran! As much respected Judges of the past used to say 'If the leader is allowed to break contact then others behind him have to do so also to keep up!' Hence the farcical situation at the finish going back through the field of so called International Race Walkers.

  6. Michael Barnbrook said...

    As a race walker for 47 years but not of the same standard as Bill Sutherland, I still support everything he says. I was only ever disqualified twice during my whole race walking career and that was for "bent leg", never for "lifting". Race walkers know when they are not in contact with the ground and any body that knowingly does that is cheating.