Race walking is a competitive sport in the Olympics and World Cup, with strict form rules and potential disqualifications. It is faster than walking and can be a good alternative for injured runners. Women’s race walking was added to the Olympics in 1992. Controversy surrounds the sport due to human error in judging violations.
Race walking is a competitive athletic sport, very different from power walking or running. Since the 1904 Games, walking has been part of the Olympics and also hosts a biennial World Cup event. Correct form is a serious component of the sport, being judged for violations as well as time.
Marching is an efficiency-based method of moving on two legs that is quite distinct from running. For proper form, a walker should never be completely out of contact with the ground; the rear foot cannot completely leave the surface until the front foot has touched the ground. Also, the leg supporting your weight must remain completely straight until your body has passed over it. Incorrectly raising or bending the leg may result in violations by the form judges and competitors with multiple violations may be disqualified.
This form of movement is much faster than walking, and some elite competitors can reach speeds very close to professional runners. Currently, the recognized world record for the men’s 20 km (12.4 miles) is one hour, 16 minutes and 43 seconds, held by Russia’s Sergey Morozov. Comparatively, the current world record for a 20km run is 55 minutes 48 seconds, held by Ethiopian Haile Gebreselassie.
Although initially only a part of the Olympics as a short-distance race, race walking has become a major part of the Olympic sports of track and field. Despite the early representation of race walking by male athletes, there was no women’s race walking competition at the Olympics until 1992, when the women’s category was added for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona. While the elite women are typically slower than the men, their record scores are close enough, with the women’s 20km world record held by Russia’s Olympiada Ivanova standing at one hour, 25 minutes and 41 seconds.
There is some controversy surrounding the sport, as the violation system is judged by human eyes. To reduce the possibility of accidental disqualification and human error, most competitions allow three violations before disqualifying a walker. At the elite level, disqualifications do occur, occasionally under surprising circumstances. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, within walking distance of the finish line and gold medal, Australian competitor Jane Saville was disqualified for a lifting violation. Her hometown hero was greatly distressed by the official’s call and many Australians were furious at the outcome.
As an exercise hobo, walking can be fun and challenging, although proper training is recommended to achieve proper form. Because it has a different muscle emphasis than running, it can be a great alternative for injured runners or those recovering from running injuries who don’t want to give up rigorous training. With the popularity of the sport on the rise, it’s now easier than ever to find clinics and walking experts to help improve your form and increase your speed through efficient techniques.