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Yes, race walking is an Olympic sport — and we tried it

Heartland Racewalkers
Posted at 6:42 PM, Jul 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-02 12:43:12-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Race walking is a technically-driven endurance sport that has a long history in the Olympics.

“Race walking combines the endurance of the long distance runner with the attention to technique of a hurdler or shot putter,” USA Track & Field said on their website.

KSHB 41 News wanted to see how the sport is done, so we met with the president, former president and vice president of the Heartland Race Walkers to give our morning anchors Lindsey Shively and Taylor Hemness a lesson.

“It’s all in the hips, and it’s all in the turnover of your feet,” Pat Durkin, president of the Heartland Racewalkers, taught our anchors.

There is a lot of technique involved in race walking.

“The technique involves how you rotate your hips, how you put your foot down, and you land on your heel and you roll off your foot,” Alan Poisner, former president of the group, said.

The sport requires you to perfect a specific form and engage all of your muscles, but it is a lot easier on your body than running.

“I was an injured runner, which is common for race walkers,” Poisner said.

Durkin started race walking when she was 68 years old after having a brain hemorrhage that left her not being able to run anymore. She had been running since she was 32.

“I decided that I was going to try race walking,” Durkin said. “A month out of the hospital, I went to Heartland Racewalkers, and I was walking a 40-minute mile.”

By the end of her first year with the group, she was walking a little over a 15 minute mile and was competitively race walking.

Posiner was a founding member of the Heartland Racewalkers when it started in 1989. He has been race walking for 35 years.

“Some of our individuals, including me, win medals in national and international events,” Poisner said.

But, not everyone in the club competes. Some members just race walk for fun, for exercise and to meet people.

Poinser only has two rules for the club: don’t hurt yourself and have fun.

The Heartland Racewalkers host clinics every Saturday and meet on the first Saturday of the month after clinics.

History of Race Walking:

The sport started during the Victorian era as a bet between noblemen to see whose footmen, the men who would walk beside the wealthy person’s coach, would be the fastest, according to the Olympics website.

Race walking was originally called pedestrianism, and in the U.S., participants would walk for six days and nearly 1,000 kilometers, or more than 620 miles. Betting was a major part of the sport, with spectators betting on who would drop out of the race first.

The basic rules of race walking were created in England, and the Olympics still uses these rules today:

  1. Athletes must have one foot, visible to the human eye, on the ground at all times. Around five to nine judges are present to make sure this rule is followed.
  2. The knee of the “advancing leg” cannot bend, and the leg “must straighten as the body passes over it.”

If an athlete violates either of these rules, they receive a penalty, and much like baseball, three penalties and you’re out.

The sport made its debut at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, but it was a part of a decathlon-type event instead of its own event.

By the 1908 London Olympics, the sport became a standalone track event, but it wasn’t until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that women’s race walking was added.

The only U.S. athlete to win a medal in this event is Larry Young, who was born in Independence, Missouri.

Young race-walked into history at the 1968 Mexico City Games and the 1972 Munich Games winning bronze medals in the 50 km race walk.

Race walking is under the sport of athletics and considered a track and field event by USATF.

The race walking events for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are the men’s 20 km race walk, men’s 50 km race walk and women’s 20 km race walk all in Sapporo Odori Park in Hokkaido.

Watch race walking in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on KSHB 41 News:

  • 5 August / 2:30 a.m. Men’s 20km race walk
  • 5 August / 3.30 p.m. Men’s 50km race walk
  • 6 August / 2.30 a.m. Women’s 20km race walk