No Respect for Olympic Racewalking

Elena Lashmanova Wins Olympic Gold and Sets World Record
Elena Lashmanova Wins Olympic Gold in 20km Walk and Sets World Record. Harry How/Getty Images

Walking is a noble sport that has been a part of the Olympic Games since 1906. Nevertheless, broadcasters and sports pundits cannot resist taking a jab at racewalking. Every four years it's a topic of conversation on television, in print and in social media.

The 2012 women's 20-kilometer walk saw Elena Lashmanova set a world record as she passed Olga Kaniskina, both of Russia. But that didn't stop NBC from showing the footage in fast motion against the Benny Hill theme and mocking the athletes.

A Snickers ad joined in the mockery. It featured Mr. T pulling up alongside a male racewalker and yelling at him, " You’re a disgrace to the man race! It’s time to run like a real man" and then firing Snickers at him out of the gun.

NBC has a long history of mocking racewalking during the Olympic Games. Bob Costas of NBC was heard insulting the sport on the September 24, 2000, Olympics broadcast, saying "What's up with the racewalkers? I mean I respect them as athletes but come on......a contest to see who can walk the fastest is like having a contest to see who can whisper the loudest." This follows on the heels of a Time Magazine insult and a humorous open letter to the Olympic Committee from Gary Linnell in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Racewalkers need to be prepared with their own comeback lines and slogans.

The Good Old Days for Walking

What is a sport with no respect to do? It didn't use to be this way. In the Pedestrian Age in the 1800's, walking was the biggest-money spectator sport in the world. Top walkers walked in match races that earned them the equivalent of millions of dollars a year — same as today's NBA players.

But walking fell on harder times as running changed from short sprints to the longer races originally pioneered by the walkers.

Setting New Racewalking Records

The Olympic racewalkers of today deserve respect. In the 2012 Olympic Games, a world record was set in the Women's 20K and Olympic records were set in the Men's 20K and the Men's 50K.

The 2000 winner of the 20K, Robert Korzeniowski, set a new Olympic Record in his race. Not only that, but he was the 1996 gold medal winner for the 50K walk and a gold medalist in 2000 and 2004. It takes a superior athlete to make double gold in two very different events — while setting records!

Racewalking form and technique have not been static — great strides have been made in just the past 20 years, and today's walkers could easily best those of past years.

The Seeds of Disrespect for Racewalking

Lack of respect also likely comes from the top competitors being non-Anglo. Russia, Mexico, Ecuador, and Poland are fielding the best — and thus the sport is bound to get less press as the USA, Canada, and Britain finish out of the medals.

Detractors say walking that fast is unnatural and "looks funny." But then what is natural about pole vaulting? The parallel bars? Plenty of sports look silly if you don't appreciate the skill and technique they take to do well. The late disqualification of Bernardo Segura in the 20K Walk after he had finished and done his victory lap make some lament a sport that relies on judging. But racewalking judges are similar to referees and umpires — they call the "fouls" when a walker "goes over the line," it's not a matter of style points.

Olympic Racewalking Rules and Judging

The Olympics are a time to celebrate going higher, faster, stronger in a large variety of human physical endeavors.

We need to all celebrate the Olympic spirit, not belittle any athlete who carries his/her country's flag and hopes.

Walking is one of the best things you can do for your body and spirit. Unfortunately, however, it is possible that the 50K racewalking distance will be reduced after 2020 Olympics.

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  1. Rowbottom, Mike. IAAF Council approves "in principle" reduction of 50km distance in race walking after Tokyo 2020. March 11, 2019