Beijing Stories: Medals go to Spain, China, Canada in Men's 20k RaceWalk, as Russia and USA are nowhere to be seen, by Elliott Denman


Elliott Denman covers the walks for us, as, well, he knows them quite well. A 1956 Olympian, Elliott placed 11th in the 50 kilometer Race Walk, the longest event on the Olympic program.

Elliott is quite concerned about the lack of US race walkers today or even a racewalking program. He has some suggestions to get such a program started, so read on, after you read about the universality of the 20k race walk and how our friends in Canada took home a medal to the great North.

Lopez_MiguelFV-Beijing15.JPGMiguel Lopez, Espana, photo by


They did The Continental out on the Ring Road to Bird's Nest Stadium.
On this steamy Sunday morning in the Chinese capital, the delegates of all the planet's land masses had it out in the men's 20K racewalk final.
And oh-how-global it was, just the way it should be in the meet properly
named the World Championships of Track and Field.
A European (Miguel Angel Lopez of Spain) outwalked an Asian (hometown hero Zhen Wang) and a North American (Ben Thorne of Canada) in the medals race.
But there was major glory in it for the delegates of South America (Brazil's Calo Bonim was sixth), Oceania (Aussie Dane Bird-Smith in eighth) and Africa (South Africa's Lebogang Shange, 11 th ), too.
Only Antarctica (laugh/ laugh) went unrepresented in the continental derby.
This race even outdid the classic Olympic flag, with its five interlocked rings, representing (just why is never really made clear) the so-called "all the world's continents."
Barring unexpected developments, there will be no other events on the World Championships program as delightfully diverse (at the top of the results list) as this one.
Saturday's men's marathon was not even close. No other event will be, either.
And that was a special beauty of the 20K.
As a team of drummers banged away throughout, and hometowners yelled their
lungs out for Zhen Wang, Zelin Cai and Ding Chen (picked by some expert analysts to
go 1-2-3), there was all kinds of glory in it for all those visiting athletes along the Ring Road, too.
Lopez's 1:19:14 clocking was a lifetime best and he's a guy who has seemingly been in the global walking picture for eons. Wang, who led much of the way through the
first 17K, but eventually saddled with and slowed by two red cards from the international
judging panel, settled for the silver and the better course of valor, 15 seconds back.
Thorne's 1:19:57 was a PR, too, as well as a Canadian record.
Good on this University of British Columbia mechanical engineering student, from up-up-up north in Kitamat, B.C., a mere 200K from the Alaska border, who found racewalking when he found his potential in running to be minuscule, and is taking it to the max.
Moving right along, the top two dozen included delegates from Ukraine (Igor Glavan, fourth); Colombia (Elder Arevalo, seventh); Korea (Hyunsub Kim, 10th); Japan (Isamu Fujisawa, 13th); New Zealand (Quentin Rew, 17th); Germany (Hagen Pohle, 18th); Italy (Massimo Stano, 19th); Belarus (Dzianis Simanovich. 23rd) and Great Britain (Tom Bosworth, 24th),too.
And further down the list of finishers were the men of Greece, Mexico, Kazaakhstan, Portugal, Ecuador, Sweden, Argentina, Bolivia, Slovakia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Chile and Peru.
The DNF list included new WR-holder Yusuke Suzuki of Japan but all of it was wonderfully-wonderfully global nevertheless.
But that parade of nations and finishers had two major gaps.
And the explanation for that situation is as divergent as it gets, too.
Russia wasn't here because its national program had been too-too successful,
an ascent that got there for all the wrong reasons. Once hailed as the greatest of
walking wizards, Russian coach Viktor Chegin now is persona non grata (along with his
athletes) in his sport these days, dragged down and out by the rampant doping
charges against him and his lineup of walkers that have mushroomed to saddening heights.
But turn the tables now.
Team USA wasn't here in the 20K, either.
It was a first time, sadly, that's ever happened in the men's 20K at
Worlds - because it's had no success at all getting anyone under the qualifying
standards. (John Nunn, doing the 50K, is the lone American male racewalker here;
Maria Michta-Coffey and Miranda Melville are in the women's 20K.)
So, Americans dedicated to the racewalking game keeping asking themselves, "If they (our Canadian neighbors) can do it (as, too, our Mexican neighbors to the south have been doing it for years and years and years) why-why-why in heck can't we?
Well, the explanations are lengthy and obvious.
There are no serious USA national development plans. There is no viable high school
component; Maine is the only state with racewalking as a standard, scoring event;
New York does it, but only for its girls.)
The Junior Olympic programs around the nation are hit-and-miss.
There are just a handful of knowledgeable coaches and no plans to import any
(as China, Korea, Japan, etc. are now doing.)
And it goes on and on.
Saddest, perhaps, of all, is the scenario when some genuine young prospects arrive on the American scene, reach performance levels indicating that they have the potential to compete with the best of the best, then simply disappear from the scene for reasons few can ever explain.
One perfect example: Trevor Barron, the Pittsburgher who finished in the top half of the
field at the 2012 London Olympic Games, and crossed the line in 1:22:46, faster than any American had ever gone the 20K at the Games.
All this at age 19.
But he's been only intermittently seen since graduation from Colorado College and it's all guesswork if he'll ever show up again on a racewalk starting line.
One more example: Tyler Sorensen, the Californian who lowered the American junior 10K record to 41:23, brilliant going four years ago, but has virtually vanished from the sport since heading off to Stanford.
The NAIA schools (most all are small ones) do a solid job of it (hey, just ask U. of B.C.'s Ben Thorne) but NCAA coaches develop apoplexy when the subject of racewalking is even mentioned.
A ripe group for recruiting to the racewalking game would seem to the mid-level distance runners (say 4:25 miles, 16-minute 5K men, 2:40 marathoners) likely never to reach greatness that way but who might easily morph into solid, serious racewalkers.
But nobody's mounting a serious reach-out to them, either.
So there we are, folks.
As racewalking continues its remarkable, multi-continental, mega-nation advances,
Team USA keeps walking through the quicksand.

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