All you need to know about Race Walking

With various track and field events having worldwide recognition and producing some record-breaking athletes at the Olympics, Race Walking earned its reputation in relatively recent times.

The name of the sport itself defines the objective where participants swiftly walk their way to the finish line.

Athletes during the course must always have one foot on the track while they cover a distance ranging from 3000 metres up to 100 kilometres.

At the Olympics, men and women compete for the top three spots under the 20km short-distance category while the 50km long-distance features only men.

The straight leg rule, by far the most important rule in race walking, states that the athlete’s knee must not bend while the foot is replaced by another one until the leg passes from the centre of the body.

Each walker is judged carefully and can be penalised if they bend their knees during the race.

A total of 10 judges inspect the race with a naked eye and bear paddles with symbols of ‘loss of contact’ or ‘bent knee’.

The racer can be disqualified if he/she receives three warning cards from different judges, including the chief judge.

The 20km Race Walking Championships 2019 in Adelaide, Australia
The 20km Race Walking Championships 2019 in Adelaide, AustraliaThe 20km Race Walking Championships 2019 in Adelaide, Australia

Walking into the Olympics

While the first appearance of a version of the discipline was in 1904, it was at the 1908 London Olympics that the first-ever race walking competition - categorised as a men’s only event featuring distances of 3500 metres and 10 miles - took place.

The 1912 Summer Olympics introduced the 10km walk which eventually led to 50km in 1932 as the official long-distance track.

The 20km for men officially recorded during the 1956 Olympics hosted the second category under short distance.

Xiuzhi Lu of China competes in the Women's 20km Walk at Rio 2016
Xiuzhi Lu of China competes in the Women's 20km Walk at Rio 2016Xiuzhi Lu of China competes in the Women's 20km Walk at Rio 2016

Like every competitive sport, women too entered race walking.

The 1992 Barcelona Games saw the 10km women's race walk category being entered, which eventually escalated to 20km to match the men’s short distance category at Sydney 2000.

The celebrated firsts

Two competitors finishing a walking race in England in 1922
Two competitors finishing a walking race in England in 1922Two competitors finishing a walking race in England in 1922

History books have recorded three British athletes winning the first Olympic medals of the sport at the 1908 London Games in the men’s 10-mile category.

George Larner, Ernest Webb, and Edward Spencer walked their way to bag the gold, silver, and bronze medals respectively. Larner and Spencer again bagged a gold and silver each while the combined team of Australia along with New Zealand’s Harry Kerr won the bronze in the 3500 metres walk.

At Stockholm four years later, George Goulding who hailed from Canada took the gold during the Olympics’ first 10km walk.

Fast forward to Los Angeles 1932 and Britain's Tommy Green claimed the first-ever 50km racewalk Olympic gold.

The Soviet Union's Leonid Spirin became the first winner in the 20km category in 1956.

Chinese walker Chen Yueling won the first-ever gold for women in 1992 under the 10km race category, while Wang Liping in the year 2000 clinched the first gold under the 20km race walk.

India and Race Walking

National record holder Irfan Kolothum Thodi - better known as KT Irfan - became the first Indian to qualify for Tokyo 2020 in race walking.

As the country’s only participant in the discipline, he is expected to partake in the men’s 20km category and will see stiff competition from the likes of Rio 2016 gold medallist Wang Zeng of China who will most certainly be looking to repeat his performance next year.

The first ever Indian to line up in Race Walking at the Olympics was Ranjit Singh back at the Moscow Games of 1980, where he finished a respectable 18th place in the men's 20km walk.

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