Changing China

Giant on the move

Race walking is style over substance

August 19, 2008

walker1.jpgAfter watching the men’s nail biting, down-to-the-wire 20 km race walk, I’m still not convinced this sport belongs in the Olympics.

Athletics is about running fast, throwing far and jumping high. Walking is about twisting your body and trying to go fast while trying to go slow. It’s like swimming in a straitjacket.

Walking is the only discipline where style gets scored. Judges watch you race and  warn, then disqualify you if you’re lifting, or if both feet leave the ground.

Who is lifting? Whoever the referees say so. And as with any event with a human element involved,  the decisions will be subjective and often controversial.

This is completely counter to the principles of athletics where it doesn’t matter how pretty your style is because the clock just doesn’t care.

PHOTO: Valeriy Borchin of Russia walks toward the finish line of the men’s 20km walk of the athletics competition at the National Stadium during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 16, 2008. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn



Have you ever heard of swimming? If the point of swimming is to get across the pool the fastest why doesn’t everybody just swim freestyle? (Or better yet, row, or use a motorboat. Hell, they’re MUCH faster.) There are other strokes in swimming not because Michael Phelps needs more medals, but because it expands the possibilities of what a well-trained athlete can do. If the idea is to get around the track as quickly as possible, what’s with the hurdles? (Which, counter to your weak argument, is a technique event that is judged. If the leg doesn’t come over the hurdle properly you are disqualified.) Racewalking, celebrating it’s 100th year in the Olympics (if you don’t count its inclusion in the 1904 All-Rounder–the precursor to the decathlon) is respected in many, many nations around the world. The fact that it is relatively unknown in the US merely points to our nation’s lack of respect for any sport that doesn’t include hitting or throwing a ball. You’re not helping.

Dave McGovern
World Class Racewalking


Please change the salutation to “Balas.” Gary is the photographer (who had enough respect for racewalking to stand in the hot sun taking photos for two hours…)


I disagree with you; Racewalking is no less a sport fit for the Olympics than is Butterfly swimming or classic style cross-country skiing. The term ‘disqualified’ is misleading since getting three calls for form breaks in races of 20,000 or 50,000 steps is similar to knocking off the bar three times in the pole vault – an athlete pushes the limit and eventually fails. As for style being more important than speed, that is clealry not true. The stopwatch prevails. Racewalking is a competition to travel 12.4 or 31.1 miles as fast as possible while applying two rules of movement.

Thank you for presenting your case respectfully even if you are wrong. May I equally respectfully suggest you try racewalking? There are several coaches around the US who would be delighted to teach you enough about the form for you revisit and, I hope, revise your opinions. Who knows, perhaps you might even earn a place at the 2012 games.
Ian Whatley

Posted by Ian Whatley | Report as abusive

Every time I watch race walking, I just think that someone ought to throw a Snickers at these guys.


If we applied your arguement of removing athletic events which have rules regarding the mode of progression then the following events also need removing:
All running races including hurdles and s’chase, all throwing events and all jumps.
Not a lot left for the journalists to report on then!

Posted by Colin Vesty | Report as abusive

I have been racewalking for a few years and I realise how much more technique it involves compared to running. That in itself makes it much more interesting then just speed. I have watched other events, which I will not mention, wondering why they are considered Olympic sports, but I realise that my lack of understanding about them probably fuels my lack of interest.

Posted by shelly arkless | Report as abusive

Szegyeld magad! – For criticizing a sport that you so obviously spent little to no time truly investigating. As others have posted, there are numerous sports in the Olympic games in which style plays an integral role to the event. And for someone like yourself, who has the same heritage as I do, you should know that race walking is a well known and more respected (and supported) sport in many other countries around the world.

Posted by Lauri Berger | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see