© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated

Iñaki Gomez is one of Canada’s fastest race-walkers and currently is the fastest over the 20-kilometer distance or very close to it as another Canadian Even Dunfee, has managed to race the distance in the time of 1:20:13 to Gomez’z best of 1:20:18.

He has competed in the 2012 London Olympic Games as well as the 2013 Moscow IAAF World Track and Field Championships where he finished in eighth position. Gomez is a three-time World Race-walk Cup competitor.

The 26-year-old Vancouver law student is also a former competitive swimmer, who found race-walking after his swimming career ended due to injury that was caused in a car accident.

Personal bests:

5,000m  –   18:45.64
10,000m – 40:01.0
10 Kilometres – 40:01
20 Kilometres – 1:20:18

Christopher Kelsall: Apparently you were a swimmer from an early age and that it was an injury from a car accident that kept you out of the water. What was the nature of the injury?

Iñaki Gomez: The accident was not a major one but was substantial enough to cause a disk to pop out of place between my C-5 and C-6. Initially, following the accident, I did not make much of it, as I had no initial symptoms of pain or pinched nerves. However, over the following months things worsened and it was suggested that I take some time away from swimming to deal with it. I saw physiotherapists and doctors. I attempted to get back to swimming within three months, but things never quite improved to the necessary for me to get back in the water.

CK: What was your primary stroke?

IK: My primary stroke was the butterfly. I was better at the longer distance – 200m Butterfly. I have never been much of a sprinter, which is self-evident from my performances as a walker.

CK: Do you follow the sport now?

IK: I like all sport. Obviously, I am well versed in the world of swimming, so I find it easier to understand competitive times, much like in athletics.

CK: Do you go to the pool on occasion now and just get in some butterfly laps or do you still have to stay away from the stroke completely?

IK: I do use swimming as a cross training activity built into my training program, particularly in the “off-season”. On occasion, I do a few sets in the water where I do the butterfly stroke, but me staying away from that stroke has less to do with my neck injury and more to do with the fact that my upper body has significantly changed in the last nine years as a walker. I do not have the same muscle mass that I once did, so the engagement of muscles that butterfly requires certainly leaves me sore and fatigued after the session. In general, I use swimming as a way to relax and loosen up from my walking routine.

CK: The Mexicans have a good history in race-walk, how are they looking at this time?

IK: Yes; Mexico has been a walking powerhouse since the 60s with many walkers winning World Championship and Olympic medals. While Mexico still produces some very good walkers, their presence at the international stage has certainly declined while other nations have picked things up. The last major medal that Mexico won came in 2009, Berlin World Championships, where Eder Sanchez, a 1:18:46 20km walker, finished in 3rd place.

CK: It appears that you are faster, the longer the race, for example your 10km best is 40:01, while your 20km best is almost exactly double that – no slowdown effect. Have you been tempted to move up to the 50km distance?

IK: My “PBs” in the shorter distances are not really indicative of my speed over the 10k and 5k. Unfortunately, I don’t get the opportunity to race the shorter distances often. By way of example, my 5,000m RW (Track) best time is very fast at 18:45. I tend to only race one 5,000m race per year, so a fast time like that is really dependent on where I am at in my training cycle. As for the 10km time of 40:01, I did that at Nationals in 2013, which we treated as a training session in our lead up to 2013 World Championships in Moscow. I feel that if I were to prepare for a 10km race, I should be able to walk around 39min or under, based on my 5,000m time. Also, to further highlight that potential, in 2014 World Cup in China this past May, in the middle 10km of the 20km I had a split time of 39:36. All that said however, your observation is correct about my ability to hold a fast pace over the longer distance. I think that in 2015 and 2016, I have a real shot at bringing that PB over 20km into the mid 1:19s, and such a time will prove to be extremely competitive to battle for the medal positions in any given competition.

I have contemplated taking a shot at the 50km distance, but the reality is that for the time being, I have my sights set on a particular goal with the 20km distance. Moving up to the 50km distance requires a lot more training that I am currently not able to achieve for several reasons. Unlike Evan Dunfee, who is poised to be a real threat at the world stage in the 50km discipline, my body has struggled with the heavier load that one requires to compete over that distance. Additionally, I’ve had to balance a law degree and training since September 2012, which has certainly limited the hours available for training. During the school year, the time available is more fitting for the “shorter distance” of 20km. I graduate in May 2014, so the plan is to carry on with the intended plan of the 20km distance towards Rio. After 2016, I will re-evaluate things and determine what my body will permit me to do.

CK: How much time or volume does your body allow you to train per week?

IK: The volume of training per week really depends on what stage of the year I am in. Given that I balance both school and training for the greater part of the year, I generally reduce my volume during those months to around 90km per week. It is possible for me to do a few more kmsGomez2 per week, but I tend to err on the side of caution to avoid fatigue or injury. We have realized how counter-productive studying and sitting down for long periods of time has been towards training and maintaining an optimal body. So, when planning a training plan, my coach and I factor in the hours of studying that I will put in to make sure that there is a healthy balance of both.

Once I conclude my school months, training ramps ups to around 115-120km per week. Again, I find my training volumes are on the lower end of the average when compared to other top quality walkers, but this is done as a preventive measure to avoid potential injuries. In any event, I focus on quality over quantity, and the reality is that this structure of training has worked quite well for me and my body over the past four years with some great performances to show for.

CK: Do you find that hill work benefits race-walking? Is there a pronounced resistance-type workout or phase of training that you need to undertake?

IK: We have relied on hill workouts from time to time as resistance and strength training. One thing that we have to factor in is the fact that we also have a technical limitation, so very steep hills may in fact not help our training, as it will force us to do unnecessary adjustments to technique. If we are to do “hill work” we make it more of a longer and progressive hill session. For example, during a training camp in Australia, we did a three week altitude camp in Thredbo, a ski town about four hours west of Canberra, where the majority of our sessions consisted of 20-30km of walking from the bottom of the highway that leads up to Thredbo to the town itself. This session consisted of rolling hills with an overall elevation gain of about 300-400m.

CK: What are your thoughts on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s (RUSADA) investigation into doping? Do you think doping is widespread in their country?

IK: It is obviously quite disconcerting to see the extent that doping has plagued their sporting world. I have read about other disciplines being affected by doping scandals, but to be fair to the situation, my own opinions stem from what I see within my discipline of race walk. Russia has always been a powerhouse in the world of race-walk, and while their athletes have always proved to be great athletes, it is evident from the number of recent doping cases that people now take issue with them. If you read into the doping investigations going on with regards to the Saransk Race walk training center, it is clear that doping is not being done by one or two athletes. The Saransk group has had 17+ cases of doping infractions, and as of last week, RUSADA handed a four-year ban to the Technical Director of the centre. I however, find it quite troubling still that the centre’s head coach, Victor Chegin, has yet to receive any kind of suspension for what appears to be, pending any actual evidence, a systematic doping program in Saransk. I am sure you can do some research into the number of Olympic, World and European champions of the past 10 years from that group that have served a doping ban or are currently serving a ban.

To your latter question, I think it is unfair for me to give a definitive statement as to whether doping in Russia is a widespread concern, but given what has been reported, it is clear that things are much worse there than in countries like Canada, where we see maybe 1-3 bans per year at most. Let us hope that IOC and IAAF continue to put pressure on RUSADA to clean up their act and start handing out bans not just to the athletes, but also to the coaches that administer these athletes.

CK: So do you feel that the technical director getting let go and not the coach is just a token move?

IK: I do not know what the facts of their internal investigation suggest, but from the outside perspective, that certainly looks to be the case. It is hard to imagine how a coach of 17 doping athletes is not aware of what is going on. When you have such a high number of offenders, I think it is safe to deduce that the coach has something to do with it.

CK: There has been renewed talk lately in athletics generally-speaking of second-time lifetime bans. Wesley Korir in Kenya wants to table a bill for criminal conviction for athletes, coaches, agents and doctors. What are your thoughts on tackling the issue of doping?

IK: This topic is always a very loaded one to discuss, as it is hard to balance between ensuring clean sport and reducing potential criminal activity. You suggest that Kenya wants to table a bill for criminal convictions, but this has already been introduced by several European nations. Spain and Italy have had criminal offences related to doping for a number of years, and in the last month, Germany introduced jail terms of up to three years for athletes found guilty of doping (see http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/30007100).

Criminalizing athletic doping sets a very strong deterrent. To my knowledge, no athlete has been criminally charged for a doping offence (may need to read more about it) in any of the countries that have introduced those laws. The most recent public case to note is the one against Italian race-walker, Alex Schwazer, who tested positive for EPO during a pre-race testing before London 2012 and was handed a four-year ban. Italian officials have launched an investigation around his case, but it appears that they are using their legal authority to gather more information on other athletes in Italy that are also doping.

With regards to the second-time lifetime bans, I am a strong proponent of this measure, and I would even contemplate lifetime bans for first time offenders. It is always frustrating to see athletes like Justin Gatlin or even walkers that I compete against, who have served doping bans, come back to the sport. I always question why we treat doping offenders differently than we do with other professionals. Take for example a lawyer that has been disbarred for violating the Ethical Codes of Conduct, that lawyer will not be allowed to practice law again. The same can be said of accountants or other financial advisors who commit financial fraud or embezzlement – their careers in the finance industry are forever barred. I think treating doping offenders to a similar standard is warranted.

CK: How does the future look for race-walking in Canada?

IG: Canada has been experiencing a ”resurgence” in recent years. As is evident from this year’s World RW Cup, Canada has three race-walkers of high caliber, all capable of walking around 1:20:15 for 20km. Our performances were good enough to challenge Japan for the bronze position. I believe that I myself along with Evan Dunfee (who is also a good walker over the 50 km distance) and Ben Thorne continue to increase our pedigree in the coming international competitions in the Rio 2016 perspective.

In terms of the growth of the sport in Canada, I think it will require more emphasis from the provincial and high school programs in trying to teach and promote the event. Our group hopes that with our ongoing success, young athletes will start to consider race walking as an option.

CK: What are your current goals for the upcoming race season?

IG: With less than two years until Rio 2016, the focus for the upcoming season is to establish myself as a contender at the major international races. With Pan Am Games in Toronto next summer, I am aiming for a medal there. Just a month after that, the plan is to travel to Beijing for the IAAF World Championships of Athletics with the goal of finishing in the top-8. My coach and I are confident that such goals will set us up well for the Olympic year.