photo by api
Up until last night the only bit of race walking I had ever seen occurred during an episode of Malcolm in the Middle when Hal, the family patriarch, took up the sport for some reason I can’t remember. But flipping channels late into the evening I came upon coverage of the Men’s 20k Walk event and was transfixed by this odd-looking, hip swinging sport.
If you’ve never seen a race walk event, imagine a group of joggers with incredible self-restraint. Race walking is basically that thing you do at a swimming pool when you’re trying to get across the deck quickly, and your mom or a life guard shouts, “Walk!”. With their arms pumping and sashaying strides race walkers look like a couple of characters in a film who’ve both simultaneously glimpsed the idol, sacred amulet, or last donut and are trying to race toward it without drawing attention to themselves. Only, in the movies, those characters eventually break out into a full sprint. In race walking a running stride isn’t allowed, and, if you momentarily break your form, a race official jumps out in front of you and waves a yellow paddle at you to let you know you’ve been penalized. Three of those bad boys and you’re asked to leave the track.
While it’s easy to mock these athletes and compare their sport to high speed mall walking, I had to change my tune when I calculated their pace. The eventual gold medalist, Valeriy Borchin finished the 20k course in 1:19:01. That translates to a 6:21 mile pace, a pace I would kill to achieve when I run. As I watched Borchin and others waddle to victory in Beijing’s summer heat, I couldn’t stop chuckling, but I tip my hat to their stamina and their speed.