Walking for Taicang (World Cup Walk Trials), by Elliott Denman

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world cup walk trials for larry...
 
   By ELLIOTT DENMAN
   Once upon a time, Taicang, China was rated the number one port city in all the world.

   But that was a long, long time ago.

   Roughly 1271 through 1368.

   You know, at the peak years of the Yuan Dynasty.

   Guess what, however, track and field fans?

  Taicang is about to regain a place in the world spotlight - a slice of a place anyway.

  Scheduled for Taicang, located about 60 miles from Shanghai, in the Yangtze River delta, on the weekend of May 3-4 is the 26th edition of the International Association of Athletics Federations' World Racewalking Cup.

   The speediest pedestrians of the planet will gather in Taicang to have it out in the five races that comprise the World Cup schedule - men's and women's 20Ks, the men's 50K, and the junior men and women's 10Ks.

  The title World Cup hits the nail right on the head.

  Racewalking - born in England, soon promoted through Europe and North America - is a thoroughly global game these days.  Far more global, really, then some of the other events on the standard Olympic/World Championships slate.

   Evidence of racewalking's universality keeps emerging every day.

   For perfect example, check out the results of the recent walk festival in Dudinska, Slovakia.

   The top four in the men's 20K came from four different continents - Europe, Oceania, Africa, South America, via the delegates of host Slovakia, Australia, Brazil and South Africa. A fifth continent, Asia, was represented by the second place finisher in  the men's 50K, from China.  Lone continent not among the leaders was North America (one entry
from Canada who was unfortunately DQd.)

    No mention, though, of the seventh continent. Antarctica's penguins have yet to be trained to racewalk.

   So let's remember all this and keep on reminding the leaders of our sport, as well as the leaders of the Olympic movement, any time some unfortunate discussion turns to thoughts of reducing or altering the Olympic program, often proposed at racewalking's expense.

   Sunday morning, March 30th, was America's turn to step to the plate, to formulate its lineup for Taicang.   

Scene was the heart of the woodsy New Jersey Pine Barrens, at Harry Wright Lake Park in Ocean County's Manchester Township.  (Yes, the town that produced two-time Olympic 4x400 relay gold medalist Andrew Valmon, who in  2012 men's served as men's head Olympic coach; yes, Manchester,the retirement home of late, great Abel Kiviat, the 1912 Olympic 1500-meter silver medalist.)

   This time, it was Manchester resident Ron Salvio of the Freehold Area Running Club "discovering" Harry Wright Park, and its many assets (flat, fast, well-paved roads; good ancillary facilities) and turning it into it the venue that virtually every Trials-goer gave highest marks.)

   Even on this cold, drizzly morning, Rachel Seaman and Maria Michta just loved Harry Wright Park. So did John Nunn and Patrick Stroupe.

  They punched their tickets to Taicang in these Pine Barrens.

   Since these USA Trials were also open to guests from other nations, Canada's Seaman and America's got to duke it out in the women's 20K and the results were eye-opening.

  As Seaman was walking to a Canadian-record clocking of 1:30:41, Michta tracked her every step and finished just 200 meters back in 1:31:10, an American record performance that knocked Michelle Rohl's year 2000 mark of 1:31:51 from the record list.

     "Awesome," Michta called it soon as she crossed the line.

    And then she had another delightful duty - congratulate kid sister Katie, who had just placed second in the women's junior 10k (back of Brenda McCollum) to claim her own ticket to China.

   With all details to be finalized in a few days, the USA women's 20K team will be Long Islander Michta, New York Staters Miranda Melville, Katie Burnett and Erin Taylor-Talcott, and Ohioan Susan Randall.

   The men's team 20K team figures to be two-time Olympian John Nunn, the now leaner-meaner Army man from   Bonsall, California by way of Evansville, Indiana; Californian Nick Christie, Texan Alejandro Chavez and Ohioan Michael Giuseppe "The Italian Stallion" Mannozzi.

    Toughest-luck guy was South Carolina's Jonathan Hallman, a solid sixth American in 1:34:45, but loser of vital time when his shoe laces came undone.

    After 15 laps of the 1250-meter loop course, there as little differential between Nunn and Missourian Patrick Stroupe up front.  But on the 16th, Nunn prevailed in 1:26:45 to Stroupe's 1:27:12 (with guest Kenny Perez of Colombia next home in 1:27:37.

  Stroupe will have his options in China - since he also owns a 50K qualifying time - and all indications are that he'll choose the longer (31.1-mile) event over the shorter one.

   Illinois twin brothers Anthony (47:26) and Alexander Peters (50:46) led the male 10K juniors.

   These racewalkers are a close-knit community.

   Consider these: Tim Seaman, the recently-retired multi-national walk king, is also Rachel Seaman's husband and Maria Michta's coach.  Mike Rohl, the head track coach at Pennsylvania's Mansfield University, is both husband of Michelle Rohl, the now-deposed women's 20K record-holder and personal coach of Mannozzi. 

   Husband-and-wife Dave Talcott and Erin Taylor-Talcott are the love match founded originally by a search for training partners.
 
   Dave T (13th American in 1:44:08) continues as one of the world's finest Masters walkers, and Erin T-T continues proving herself over both shorter and longer routes.  Among other accomplishments, she's the American women's 50K record-holder at 4:33:23.

  Fact is that, with Stroupe likely the only USA male to be nominated for the Taicang 50K, she'd like nothing better than to be named to walk the 50K, too.

   But it's likely to be a hot-button civil rights issue she'll take to the courts on the basic
argument that - since there's no women's 50K on the Olympic/World Championships program - she's an out-and-out victim of gender bias.

   Expect to read some more about this matter in upcoming weeks, on the road to Taicang.
  The World Cup of Racewalking has been going on - basically biennially - since the first
edition, held in Lugano, Switzerland, in 1961.

   Twice - the 1987 event held in NYC's Central Park, and the 1991 event staged through downtown San Jose, California - the USA has played the role of gracious host.

  Through those 25 previous World Cups, however, Team USA has never enjoyed a podium position.
   
High-water marks are fifths by the 1973 USA men in Lugano, and the 1979 USA women in
Eschborn, Germany.
    
Lone USA medalist at all these World Cups has been National Track and Field Hall of Famer Ron Laird, with his thirds in the 20Ks of 1967 and 1973.

  In other words, Team USA will have a lot of catching up to do in Taicang.

  The Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Mexicans, Spaniards, Italians, Austraians, Portuguese, Czechs, French and others continue to lead the world. They have real national programs. Team USA remains a member of the "chase pack."

   With no built-in development system - the NCAA schools steering clear, only the NAIA schools taking a pro-active stance, and 48 of 50 states shunning high school racewalking - it's still pretty much hit-and-miss in this country.   But you know that Maria Michta, John Nunn, Patrick Stroupe & Co. will give their all in Taicang, and they'd appreciate your support.

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