The race walks: for Stuart Weir, the walks provided more questions than answers

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Diniz_Yohann-WorCH17.jpgYohann Diniz, France, WR holder, gold medalist, 50k, photo by PhotoRun.net

RunBlogRun opines: The race walks are some of the most iconic events in the sport. Without the most recent addition of the women's 50k, the race walks may be saved for a generation, but, alas, they will change.

Stuart Weir wrote this piece on the walks and his questions. The DQ rate is quite high and that concerned Stuart Weir. If Stuart had asked me, I would have told him that the meet had some well meant but over earnest officiating, but hey, I'm not doctor.

Race-walking question, by Stuart Weir

I spent this morning watching race-walking. I found it interesting but perplexing. It all started when I talked to Gemma Bridge (GB). Her post race comments included the following: "I was determined to finish and not get disqualified and I think my technique was very good". That shocked me that an athlete would set a goal of finishing and would worry about disqualification.

Then I looked at the stats for the 4 races today:

Men's 50K

Finished 33 DNF 6 DQ 9

Women's 50K

Finished 4 DNF 2 DQ 1

Men's 20K

Finished 58 DNF 3 DQ 3

Women's 20K

Finished 52 DNF 2 DQ 6

That is of 147 starters 19 or 13% were disqualified. That seemed to be a shockingly high proportion. Imagine if 13% of sprinters were disqualified for false-starting or 13% of distance runners for pushing or obstructing other runners?

There are two offences for which walkers can be DQed. The first rule requires that the athlete's back toe cannot leave the ground until the heel of the front foot has touched. Violation of this rule is known as loss of contact. The second rule requires that the supporting leg must straighten from the point of contact with the ground and remain straightened until the body passes directly over it. These rules are judged by the unaided human eye. If a walker gets three red cards they are disqualified.

I then studied the reaction of six disqualified walkers as recorded in the official flash-quotes.

Erin Talcott (USA) - "I'm sad, frustrated, disappointed. I felt great out there. I was feeling fantastic, strong. It was such a surprise."

Edward Araya (CHI) - "I don't understand what happened so I am very disappointed."

Dominic King (GBR) - "It's a bit frustrating. But I have to keep going".

Andres Chocho (ECU) -"I don't agree with the judges because the three cards came very fast one after another. I did not change my walking from the start and then suddenly, after 25km, it started -- 1, 2,3. I don't understand it."

Havard Haukenes (NOR) - "The pace went faster but then I saw I got the first red. So I slowed down and just focused on the technique. After a while, the pace started to accelerate and I was back racing. And then I got the next two. I had a good communication with my coach, all looked good, so I am sad. I will go home, take some rest, see friends and hope to forget this."

Tom Bosworth (GBR) -"I was feeling great and walking faster than I ever have done. It all seemed to be going fine until 12km, and I got 2 red cards on that lap. I knew I had one from earlier so I was just telling myself to concentrate. But I put in a burst and was pushing the boundaries but it was a real shock to get the third red card. I think that is why it is difficult to take because I wasn't feeling physically bad. I haven't been disqualified for four and a half years so to do it here in London is devastating. But this has only made me hungrier for more. These bad days make the good days even sweeter."

What a range of reactions! Dominic King, gives a very British, understated reaction: "It's a bit frustrating". Erin Talcott was surprised. Havard Haukenes is sad. Tom Bosworth is one of the best in the world. He was close to a medal in Rio, he has not been disqualified for nearly 5 years - why today? Has he suddenly changed his technique?

Edward Araya does not understand. Andres Chocho does understand and states clearly that he does not agree with the judges. He also reasonably asks the question: as he did not change his technique why did he have no red cards in the first half of the race and three in the second half?

I have to admit that I came away with more questions than answers.

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