Race walking is a discipline that Ireland has had a proud tradition in. The last three World Championship medals won by Irish athletes have been in this event, most notably Robert Heffernan’s gold medal in the 50km walk at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.
What is race walking?
- Race walking is distinguished from running in that is requires the athlete to maintain constant contact with the ground and a ‘straightened’ knee of the advancing foot upon initial contact with the ground. It requires both endurance and technical skill.
- At senior international level, the race distances are 20km and 50km for men and 20km for women.
- For junior athletes the international distance is 10km. At juvenile level the distances are much shorter ranging between 1000m and 5000m.
How are the rules applied?
- An athlete can be penalized for ‘lifting’ or a ‘bent knee’ if visible loss of contact or inability to straighten the knee is observed by the judge with the human eye. Race walking events take place on the track or on the road with multiple laps of short circuit of usually 2km in length.There can be between 6 and 8 judges along the circuit each working independently of each other.
- If a judge determines that the athlete is in danger of not complying with the rules he/she will issue a warning. This is just a friendly warning to encourage the athlete to concentrate.
- If the judge does not see an improvement he/she will issue red card, which the chief judge will receive. If the chief judge receives three red cards from three different judges, he will inform the athlete that he/she is disqualified.
- Getting disqualified in race walking is comparable to knocking the bar three times at a particular height in a high jump, whereby you are eliminated from the competition.
What type of training is involved?
- The training for a race walker is similar to that of a distance runner, but with much more emphasis on the technical skill component. Good strength, mobility and motor skills are required to maintain correct technique at high speeds or over long distances. Ironically correct race walking technique is often the most efficient one. Some of the fastest race walkers in the world have the best techniques and suffer least disqualifications.