Here’s a fine piece from Elliot Denman, an Olympic race walker, who writes about the significance of the women’s 50k Race Walk being added to the IAAF World Championships in London in August! This gives women the same number of events as men in athletics. And Erin Taylor-Talcott is very excited! In this feature, Elliott Denman provides the historical context for the addition and how the 50k RaceWalk needs women’s competition at the distance to survive in the modern Olympic world.
TAKE IT FROM ERIN TAYLOR-TALCOTT,
MAJOR THANKS TO DeMEESTER
FOR COMING OF WOMEN’S WORLD 50K.
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
Let’s hear it for Mr. Paul DeMeester.
This California lawyer deserves a track and field gold medal of honor.
And now let Mrs. Erin Taylor-Talcott, America’s (and frequently the world’s) first lady of the 50K Racewalk, pick up the story.
“I’m racing in London…in the 50K,” she’s been telling friends around the
planet the last several days.
Those seven words represent big-big history.
Men have had 24 World Championships events to aspire to all along.
And now women (limited to 23 at all recent Worlds) will have 24, too.
Erin T-T, of Owego, New York, lets us know how it all transpired:
“Back at the beginning of the year, when there was that huge scare that the IAAF or IOC or whoever (or both) were going to cut the (men’s) 50K (from the Olympic and/or
World Championships schedule of events), some people went into high gear to save the event.
” One of them was Paul DeMeester.
” Paul was on the national team for Belgium when he was young and then moved to the US, did a ton of cool stuff, got a law degree and now practices in California. And he race walks and helps the sport.
” He saw the threat to the 50K and jumped into action, going to London and meeting and talking to people and educating them and persuading and changing mindsets. “
Did he ever.
He did a gold medal-job of it.
“One of the things Paul realized was that the IOC is looking for gender equality (as they should) and that put the 50K in a dangerous position,” said Erin T-T.
” He realized that unless we can get more women participating (in it), the event may be cut altogether (for men as well as women.).
“So Paul and I (but mostly Paul, he’s the smart one for sure) fought for there to be a separate woman’s standard. And today, I’m so excited to say, there is one!
“The IAAF is implementing a standard of 4:30 for the London World Championships! I wish that time was a bit more relaxed to allow more women to compete, but it’s another step.
“It’s one step at a time, but it is progress! ”
Is it ever !!
“Women will be on the starting line (in London) in a mixed event,” Erin T-T rejoices.
“We will have our own medals (and other appropriate awards.)
” We will be recognized in our own division. It’s very, very exciting. And if it wasn’t for Paul and his unwavering belief and commitment, then there wouldn’t be any women on the line.
“I have been so fortunate that whenever there have been people there telling me no, telling me I can’t do it, I have someone behind me who says, yes, yes you can, and has helped fight for it.
” The hours and hours and hours Paul put in to accomplish this are just about beyond measure, and he did it out of the kindness of his heart and passion for the sport.
“So now it’s time to focus. I’ll be on the line, not as the only woman this time, but with others around me (including USA teammate Katie Burnett.) And that will be the most amazing feeling ever. “
The World Championships 50K (for men) actually antedates the full World Championships
program by seven years.
With the schedule-slicers in full sway some four and a half decades ago, the
1976 Montreal Olympics was staged with a 20K racewalk, but no 50K. Both distances
had been standard in the Games of 1956. 1960, 1964, 1968 and 1972 but by Montreal time
the 50K was a no-go.
One of the key debating points was that all the 50K races through then had followed the
basic marathon run course – pretty much tying up 15-plus miles of big city streets in two directions for five hours or more.
An ingenious solution was put forward to bring the 50K walk back to the Olympic
Games at Moscow in 1980 – from then out the race would be held on a closely-confined
loop course, often of just 2K. And thus no longer clogging traffic hour after hour after hour.
If Montreal wasn’t willing to do the 50K, the IAAF itself surely was.
And so the first World Championships 50K walk was staged in
Malmo, Sweden on Sept. 18, 1976.
The medals went to the Soviet Union’s Venyamin Soldatenko (gold in 3:54:40),
Mexico’s Enrique Vera (silver in 3:58:14) and Finland’s Reina Salonen
(bronze in 3:58:53.)
USA’s Larry Young, the bronze medal man of both 1968 (Mexico City) and
1972 (Munich), settled for 21st place this time.
But the Malmo event, in effect, saved the 50K from extinction and
paved the way for the resurrection of 1980. So say this about those boycott-plaqued
Moscow Games, at least they kept the longest and toughest event on the
Olympic program on track.
The full World Championships of Track and Field didn’t happen until Helsinki in 1983.
Erin T-T, and all her 50K friends are not resting on their laurels.
They’re already pointing to a more robust future.
“Let’s start something now,” she says.
” Let’s look forward to Taicang (China) next year (for the World Racewalking
“Let’s get a women’s 50K (in Taicang) figured out now. Let’s set a time standard, selection procedures for federations, so that women can start to plan now instead of finding out they’re racing a 50K three weeks before the event.
“And, guys, push your federations, for without women and equality you’re likely to lose your (50K) event (altogether.)
” Women, consider giving it a try! Train for it, do it, get excited for it! And if you can’t do either of those things then consider supporting women who are going for it.
“If you’ll be in London (all the Worlds walks will be packaged on a single day’s
program), come cheer for the women, show your support. Say ‘Hi.’
“Right now, I think I’m going to go do a workout .”