by ELLIOTT DENMAN
Moscow represents history in the walking world. Not to “real” world history, of course… Not to Napoleon trying to walk in and take over the Russian capital and all it represents….and failing. Not to the Nazis trying to do likewise a century and a quarter later….and failing.
Let’s talk racewalking here, which, yes, a lot of people were doing Sunday after the first of the three racewalks at the 14th edition of the World Track and Field Championships, was put in the books.
The men’s 20K is done, the women’s 20K is carded for Tuesday morning, the men’s 50K Wednesday morning, history in the making.
First, a look back.
When they welcomed the 50K back onto the Olympic program in 1980 – the longest and toughest event on the Games program had been shortsightedly axed from the Montreal Olympics of 1976 – they turned it into a loop-course event for the first time.
And that was the smart move that has assured the 50K’s continued presence in all Games held since.
Through all Olympics from 1932 to 1972, the 50K had been a long-long out-and-back road course event, usually tracking the same route as the Olympic marathon run. But doing that always cost big bucks-pounds-rubles from the municipal coffers and tied up at least 15 miles of city streets for often over five hours. That’s one reason we saw no 50K at the Montreal Games.
The short loop course (generally 2K) precludes that and guarantees concentrated action that racewalking’s fans – and yes, they are out there in profusion – can follow easily. And cheer themselves hoarse in the process.
There were differing kinds of 2K loop courses at the Berlin World Championships of 2009 and the Daegu World Championships of 2011, The London Olympic Games of 2012, too. These were 2K circuits set up in “iconic” city-center locations, completely apart from the main stadium action. The Berlin loop was “anchored” by the Brandenburg Gate, the London route by Buckingham Palace.
For whatever reason – even World Championships top management had no clear explanation. apart from it being the local organizing committee’s call – Moscow 2013 retrurned to the “old-fashioned” loop.
And so the 20K walkers – a remarkable 66 of them from 35 nations, again proving racewalking’s appeal as one of the most universal of international events – set out from Luzhniki Stadium late yesterday afternoon.
Why they were scheduled to do this at that tough hour – thus having to fight off the heat and humidity as well as each other – is another racewalking question that needs answering,
But so it was and the show went right on regardless. After some 550 meters on the track inside Luzhniki, the pack headed out the gate for their assigned route of nine of those 2K loops along the Mockva river. And then it was back into the stadium- just the way they did it in the old days.
Take a first glance at the glance at the winner, Russia’s own Aleksandr Ivanov, and you’d have thought he represented history, too.
Surely, this fuzzy-cheeked lad must be the youngest 20K winner in the 30 years and 14 editions of the World Championships, right?
But nyet, wrong.
He’s actually 20 years and 106 days old,
So you check the books to confirm his “youngest winner” status – and you’re proven wrong.
Another Russian, Viktor Burayev was just 18 years and 346 days old when he won the 20K Worlds at Edmonton in 2001.
That’s Russian history, too. They keep churning out racewalking champions hereabouts as quickly as Jamaica develops sprinters, Ethiopia and Kenya distance runners, Finland javelin throwers, and Team USA just about everything else….but racewalkers.
Ivanov won it all in 1:20:58, excellent time in the atmospherics of the days, with China’s Ding Chen tracking him home second in 1:21:09 and Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez taking the bronze in 1:21:21.
North America had cheering moments in Imaki Gomez’s eighth place for Canada in 1:22:21. And then more when countryman Benjamin Thorne – wow, just a month older than Ivanov, came through with a 20th in 1:24:26. Japan’s Yusuke Suzuki, who did much of the early pace-walking, settled for an eventual 12th in 1:23:20
Racewalking first came of age in Britain some two or three centuries ago. Noblemen would wager great sums – my footman can beat your footman, don’t you know – and so walking became a sport. And in the 20th century such great British walk champions as Tommy Green, Harold Whitlock, Don Thompson, Ken Matthews, Stan Vickers, Paul Nihil kept Team GB atop the charts.
But things go in cycles. No British 20K walker had been to the Worlds in 22 years. But there, right here in Moscow, delivering cheer to the Brits who remembered their nation’s once domination of the walk game, was Londoner Alex Wright, the 31st place finisher in 1:26:40.
Last year’s results meant nothing in Moscow. Just ask Errick Barrondo and Zhen Wang, the 2-3 finishers at London.
News was not good for Guatemala fans. Barrondo, who had delighted his nation with his silver medal performance outside Buckingham Palace, seemed to be making a big late rush to catch Ivanov….until gaining the displeasure of the judges, too, and winding up on the DQ list with a third red card. Now, Barrondo hopes to recoup in the 50K – but does he have energy left to give it his best shot?
Another notable early leader fading right out of the picture, and onto the DQ charts, was Wang, number three over the line in London.
But Team USA – named Tim Seaman – was never in the competitive picture -and wound up as the 53rd and final finisher.
His time, 1:36:35, was one of the slowest in this 41-year-old’s long, noble career as an international racer.
And he’s getting tired of explaining America’s lagging hopes in the racewalking world, too. He tells you that Trevor Barron, America’s hottest prospect in years and 26th placer at London, seems to be too busy as a student at Colorado College to train for his walking future. And that Tyler Sorensen, even faster than Barron as a teen, is battling through major injuries with his return date still TBA.
Seaman reminds you that the Russian development budget for walkers is up there in the millions (dollars, not rubles) and that USATF’s budget for racewalking development is somewhere up there around thirty-thousand dollars. He sees so many other nations – China, Japan, Germany, France, Spain, Korea, Portugal, Ukraine, Australia, et al, – continuing their active support of the walking game while USA continues as a laggard.
He sees improvement to USA’s north – Canada – and to its south, where racewalking represents just about the primary Olympic and Worlds hopes of so many of our Latin American neighbors.
Guys like Aleksandr Ivanov, of course, have no such concerns. He’s based at the famed Russian walking academy of Saransk, where they churn out walk talents on an apparent factory line.
His best post-race quote: “I have been training with the group of my coach Viktor Chegin since 2011. I enjoy great training conditions and a great support in Saransk, which is in the Republic of Mordovia. When we talked for the first time we set our long-term goal to peak for the (2016) Olympic Games in Rio. Chegin pins his hopes on me. This win did not come by chance. It’s part of a plan.”
Take this from young Alex: plan now to see other Russians playing prominent roles in the next two 2013 Worlds walks, coming soon.