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What is Racewalking?

Racewalking is a sport where one foot is always on the ground.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2014
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Racewalking is a competitive track and field sport, quite different from power walking or running. Since the 1904 Games, racewalking has been part of the Olympics, and also holds a biennial World Cup event. Correct form is a serious component of the sport, which is judged for violations as well as for time.

Racewalking is an efficiency-based method of moving on two legs that is quite distinct from running. For correct form, a walker must never be completely out of contact with the ground; the back foot cannot fully leave the surface until the front foot has touched the ground. Additionally, the leg carrying your weight must remain completely straight until your body has passed over it. Either lifting or bending the leg incorrectly can result in violations by the form judges, and competitors with several violations can be disqualified.

This form of movement is far faster than walking, and some elite competitors can reach speeds very close to professional runners. Currently, the recognized world record for the men’s 20 km (12.4 miles) is one hour, 16 minutes, 43 seconds, held by Sergey Morozov of Russia. Comparatively, the current world record for a 20 km run is 55 minutes, 48 seconds, held by Haile Gebreselassie of Ethiopia.

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Although initially only a part of the Olympics as a short distance race, racewalking has become a major part of the track and field Olympic sports. Despite the early representation of racewalking by male competitors, there was no female racewalking competition in the Olympics until 1992, when the women’s category was added for the Barcelona Summer Olympics. While elite female racewalkers are typically slower than males, their record scores are fairly close, with the women’s 20 km world record held by Olympiada Ivanova of Russia standing at one hour, 25 minutes, 41 seconds.

There is some controversy over the sport, as the violation system is judged by the human eyes. To lower the chance of accidental disqualification and human error, most competitions allow three violations before disqualifying a walker. At the elite level, disqualifications do occur, occasionally in surprising circumstances. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, only moments away from the finish line and the gold medal, Australian competitor Jane Saville was disqualified for a lifting violation. The hometown hero was greatly distressed by the official’s call, and many Australians were furious at the outcome.

As a hobby or exercise, racewalking can be enjoyable and challenging, although proper training is recommended to achieve correct form. As it has different muscular emphasis than running, it can be an excellent alternative for injured runners or those recovering from running injuries that do not wish to give up rigorous training. With the popularity of the sport ever increasing, it is now easier than ever before to find clinics and racewalking experts to help improve form and increase speed through efficient techniques.

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