© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated

Recently, the focus from sports media on race-walking has unfortunately been all about whether the event will survive to see another Olympics after the Rio 2016 Games. Media has speculated or perpetuated rumours that the International Olympic Committee, at their conference, “Agenda 2020”, were reviewing the sport of athletics and its individual events, such as Shot-put, the 200m and 10,000m runs and 20 kilometre race-walk.

Inaki Gomez, one of Canada’s international walkers who specialises in the 20km distance said in response to being asked about the rumour, “Nowhere has the IAAF or the IOC made any statements about the consideration of eliminating any particular event. To think otherwise is pure speculation, and it is quite unfortunately, although not surprising, to see the media run along with a fabricated story, which suggests that classic and long-standing events like the 10,000m, Shot-put and Race-walks are being considered as potential candidates for removal.”

To quell the rumours, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) made the following statement:

“No credence whatsoever should be given to recent unfounded speculation regarding possible changes to athletics’ programme within the Olympic Games. While the Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendations were passed at last week’s session, no details or specific proposals have yet been made by the IOC as to how they will be implemented.”

Evan Dunfee, Canada’s fastest over 20K and the 50K distances agreed. He added, “I have been following the Agenda 2020 campaign with great interest as it represents a new era of Olympic Games. So I imagine that you are referring to recommendation 10, “move from a sport-based to an event based programme”. In essence this means that the sport of Athletics may be safe, but 1 or more of the 47 disciplines could be excluded from a given Olympics. There have currently been no talks about which events these may include. Anything written in the press as of right now is merely speculation. Much of this speculation came from Dick Pound speaking up. Dick has had it out for Race-walk for a number of years, so his comments aren’t too surprising.”

To keep the event relevant and included in global championships Dunfee feels that the sport of athletics needs to stand as one, he said, “Now more than ever we have to come together and stand as one with a united defence of Athletics as a whole. We (along with swimming) are the hallmark sports of the Olympics and this gives us the upper hand at the bargaining table. Hopefully the IAAF will stand tall and say that it is all-or-nothing.”

It can be argued that Olympic wrestling is a hallmark sport of the Olympics; it is indeed an original sport dating back to the original games that took place exclusively in Greece. In 2012, the IOC had considered removing wrestling from the Olympic Games. The combat sport dates back at least 15,000 years. It was reintroduced into the modern Olympics in 1904 and has been a part of the games since. Non-sports such as Ballroom Dancing and Rhythmic Gymnastics that should never have been included in the summer games may come and go, but wrestling, field events, running and walking are original or hallmark Olympic events, part of the fabric and foundation of Citius, Altius, Fortius or Faster, Higher, Stronger.

Walking was a very popular event in the 1800s, as was pedestrianism and ultra-marathon running that attracted mass spectatorship and betting. The events were first popularised in the UK and later became big events in North America and throughout the British Commonwealth.

Walking requires fitness just as distance running does, however, also requires skill and attention to detail as one foot must always remain in contact with the ground, so that no visible (to the human eye) loss of contact occurs. The advancing leg must be straightened (ie. no bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until the vertical upright position. The stride is shorter; however, the turnover rate is similar to 800m runner’s turnover, yet is done for much longer periods of time, over the more common walking distances of 20K and 50K.

World-wide competition and participation level is an important consideration for the IOC to include events and sports in the Olympics. In parts of North America race-walking isn’t as popular as it is in Europe or Asia; however, it is a highly competitive event. When asked about the competition level Gomez added, “It is worth considering how the events mentioned by the media are in fact events that have extremely competitive and diverse fields of athletes from all the various continents. For example, take the 20km race-walk. On average, 65 high-level athletes compete at any given major competition, athletes come from countries all across Latin America, Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America. Furthermore, top Athletics powerhouses like Russia and China place a great deal of emphasis in the event, and have geared their programs to making sure that they win medals in all walk events. To even suggest that those events are likely to be removed is to suggest that countries like the two mentioned are going to bend over backwards and allow for a unilateral removal of the walks from the Athletics Program. Interestingly, the same type of analysis can be made for the 10,000m and the Shot Put. These three events have proved to be extremely valuable to the Athletics Program as a whole, and it is very disconcerting that people are casually making remarks that suggest otherwise.”