20K story for Larry…
by Elliott Denman
August 6, 2012
LONDON – Race walking, of course, is a sport of British invention.
All dating back about two-plus centuries. At least.
Lords of the manor, being wagering men, would match their coachmen, or hired help of all descriptions, against the best walkers the friendly but rival lords of adjoining, or nearby manors, could offer.
They’d walk it from one town to another, one estate to another, at distances
short and long. Five miles, twenty miles, fifty miles, whatever.
And the stakes, it is said, would grow rather high.
Quite a heap of guineas, some guessed, might change hands on the results of these
So it was that this form of walking eventually led to a more formal form of walking, the defined-by-the-rules form that soon became a popular inclusion in the track and field meets that came of age late in the 19th century and into the 20th.
Understandably, British walkers, powered by their nation’s early affection for the event, emerged as some of the first great champions.
The first Olympic walks (apart from the 880-yard walk included in the all-around event in the St. Louis Games of 1904) were the 1500 and 3000-meter walks staged at the (still-unofficial) Games of 1906 Games at Athens and then the 3500-meter walk at the London Games of 1908.
American George Bonhag (the 1500) and Hungary’s Gyorgy Szantics (the 3000) were the 1906 winners but Britons George Larner and Ernest Webb went 1-2 in that 1908 3,500 race.
Britons were to continue proving themselves Great at walking as the Olympics evolved and such champions as Tommy Green (1932 50K), Harold Whitlock (1936 50K), Don Thompson (1960 50K) and Ken Matthews (1964 20K) emerged and drew the plaudits of the British populace.
Britain remained a hub of global walking and such tests as the London-to-Brighton, Hastings-to-Brighton, Leicester-to-Skegness and Chippenham-to-Calne races became hugely-attended, well-supported events attracting leading pedestrians from all over the globe.
Alas, the once-busy-busy-busy British walking scene has receded in recent years but still there are some endeavoring for its return to prominence in “this sceptered isle.”
And so it was that GB hosted its biggest walking event in 64 years (or since the men’s 10,000-meter track walk and the road 50K at the second London Olympic Games in 1948) on Saturday, the fourth of August, 2012.
This was the men’s 20K (12.4-mile) championship of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, first of the three racewalks on the 2012 card. The men’s 50K (at 9 a.m.) and the women ‘s 20K (at 5 p.m.) will follow on Saturday, Aug. 12th.
Unfortunately for those with a sense of all this history, Team GB did not nominate a man to walk the 20K, but British walkers will indeed toe the line in the men’s 50K and women’ 20K coming Saturday.
So much has happened to transform international racewalking in the past 2-3-4 decades.
Once a European-dominated competition, the racewalking “bug” has now gone totally global and as the men’s 20K results displayed, there’s lots of great walk talent emerging in Asia and Latin America.
Of the six habitable continents, racewalking is now enthusiastically embraced in all but Africa (although top walkers have emerged from South Africa, Tunisia and, sporadically, Kenya.)
Don’t know if this was Lord Sebastian Coe’s idea, but the 2012 Olympic walks have a home of their own and it’s the 2K loop course at The Mall, winding up and around the Queen Victoria statue directly front of Buckingham Palace, and far away from Olympic Stadium in East London’s Olympic Park.
(Actually it’s not really a home of their own for the walkers; it’s a route complete with
start and finish line, plus press and operational centers, that will be shared by the male and female marathon runners.)
So, on the one hand, the walkers will not get to savor anything (beyond the medals ceremonies) of the Olympic Stadium experience. But on the other hand, they’ll get the chance to entertain their own audience at The Mall and enjoy the concentrated attention of those who truly appreciate what they are doing.
Chinese walkers surely enjoyed their 20K experience more than any others – as Chen Ding (1:18.46, Olympic record time), Zhen Wang (1:19:25) and Zelin Cai 1:19:44) took the 1-3-4 places, Only man to interrupt what would have been the first one-nation 20K medals sweep since 1956 wa Erick Barrondo of Guatemala, the silver medalist in 1:18:57.
Shock of it all was the disappearance of Russia’s Valeriy Borchin, the defending Olympic champion and 2011 Daegu world champion, after the 18K post. He bailed out for reasons never made clear but possibly a matter of heat exhaustion.
America’s lone entry, 19-year-old Colorado College student Trevor Barron, aquitted himself well by beating over half the 56-man starting field and placing 26th in 1:22:46, just off his PR.
Canada, which has a strong walking tradition of its own – remember Geoge Goulding, the 10,000-meter champion of 1912 – put Inaki Gomez into 13th place in 1:20:58.
This became a true young man’s game – Chen struck gold a day before his 20 th birthday; Wang will be 21 on Aug. 24; Cai was all of 20 years and four months.
Barrondo, who turned 21 on June 14, gave Guatemala its first Olympic medal – any sport – of any kind.
Ever. And was totally delighted, of course.
“I cannot believe this,” he said. “I have made history for Guatemala.
“It was a glorious day for me, but the glory is most of all for my country.”
Guatemala president Otto Perez Molina was one of the first to call with congratulatons.
Chen, too, took a national point of view.
“I am excited for everybody in China,” he said.
And a lot of fans at The Mall were excited to see big-time walking competition return to Great Britain.