John Nunn, 20k, photo by Dillon Vibes
This story is from Elliott Denman, one of our longest enduring writers. Elliott wrote for us with American Athletics, American Track & Field and now, RunBlogRun. A 1956 Olympic race walker, Elliott has written about nearly every event on the athletic calendar for us, and he will be doing a daily column at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
USA MEN CONTINUE TO LAG
IN THE 20K WALK WORLD
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
SALEM, OREGON – Past USA Olympic racewalking notables – of assorted vintages – Larry Young, Curt Clausen, Tim Seaman, Phillip Dunn, Goetz Klopfer, Gary Morgan and Steve Hayden were among the many who lined the route along Cottage Street and Court Street in this Oregon state capitol city Thursday morning.
They were all there on a mission – to scream encouragement to the current crop of American 20K racewalkers aiming to walk their way to Rio.
Apparently, they didn’t scream and yell loud enough. Or give them all – the men, anyway – a big collective boot in the hind quarters.
For the first time in the history of the Olympic 20K racewalk event, which has been on the Games program since Melbourne in 1956 – having succeeded the old 10,000-meter track race, which was on the slate at London in 1948 and Helsinki in 1952 – an Olympic 20K racewalk will take place without an American athlete on the starting line.
John Nunn (1:25:37), Trevor Barron (1:27:28), Nick Christie (1:27:44), the 1-2-3 finishers in the 15-man pack, just weren’t quick enough this Thursday morning. And they hadn’t been quick enough in the extended pre-Trials qualifying period, either.
It took a 1:24 or better to punch a ticket to Rio. Nobody came close.
Christie pushed the early pace and was walking along at sub-1:24 pace before the realities of it all set in. His gutsy effort would not pay off. The three 50Ks (31-milers) he’d walked in the last seven months were taking their toll.
Nunn will be the lone American male walker on the premises in Rio. He’ll get there by virtue of his 4:03:41 win in the National 50K held in Santee, California the third weekend of February.
It took a sub-4:06 to make it to Brazil for the 31.1-miler.
Uncle Sam will, however, have two nieces walking in Rio.
Maria Michta-Coffey (1:33:41) and Miranda Mellville (1:34:12) easily made the grade Thursday, walking their required sub-1:36s easily and expertly. Fact is, they’d posted sub-1:36s – both as guests at the Asian Championships – long before Thursday morning.
In a post-race, impassioned call-out to the younger folks in the audience lining the course and mobbing the finish line outside the capitol building – and the older folks who make the big decisions – Michta-Coffey got on her soap box.
She reminded the crowd that she and Melville were New York Staters, that racewalking (for girls, anyway) was a standard event in the Empire State’s high school programs, that both of them got their starts as racewalkers exactly for that reason, and it’s more than about time the rest of the nation
caught on, too.
Actually, Maine is the only state where racewalking for both boys and girls is a standard ingredient of its championship – and all other – meets.
So that leaves 48 Â½ of the balance of the nation with a long, long way to go if we are ever to plug this obvous gap.
For many years, New York State did indeed include racewalking for boys as a standard event.
But then the NYS coaches – for some absurd reason – declared they couldn’t be bothered and boys racewalking was soon gone with the wind.
Three-time Olympian Tim Seaman was one of the many lads who rose to the top of the domestic racewalking heap out of the NYS program.
“Awful, just awful,” is the long-held view that racewalking is so clearly neglected at the scholastic level in this nation.
Only through USATF and AAU Junior Olympic programs, or the dedicated coaching souls in the NAIA coaching ranks – does America have any kind of a racewalking farm system.
Larry Young won two Olympic 50K bronze medals. Clausen is still the only
American male racewalker to medal at the World Championships.
Barron seemed headed for a similar kind of global glory when he clocked a 1:22:13 at 20K and placed a (well, relatively) solid, mid-pack 26th at the 2012 London Olympics.
“If Trevor had stayed with it after that, he’d have been top 10 in the world now, no doubt about it,” said Seaman, now a noted coach (of Michta-Coffey, Melville and others.)
But Trevor Barron didn’t.
His focus switched to the academic world as an undergraduate at Colorado
College and will soon switch back in that direction as he begins doctoral
work in Intelligent Robotics at Arizona State University.
Having taken nearly two full years away from serious training, there was no way for him to come all that way back this Thursday morning.
Four years ago, at London, he’d have been considered a lock for future international acclaim.
Now, it’s a very big guess if he’ll ever take this event seriously again.
But at least the crowds lining the Salem streets got to see a good, free show.
Expertly choreographed by big-event expert Tracy Sunlun, and ably abetted by “Tracktown USA” CEO Vin Lananna, the race was a clearcut smash hit,
complete with cheerleaders, insightful announcing, and all the amenities you’d
expect at an event of this magnitude.
But Lananna, who will double as men’s head coach at Rio, will have no 20K man to take with him in Brazil.
“The real Trials,” of course, start Friday morning at Hayward Field.
We’ve had a pretty good prelude. Too darn bad – out of a possible six berths forRio, three male, three female – this first Trial filled just two of them.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elliott Denman was a USA Olympic racewalker, too, placing 11th at 50K at Melbourne in 1956.