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What is Olympic Race Walking?

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What is Olympic race walking? These are events that require great stamina (the 50-kilometer version is longer than the marathon) plus precise attention to proper technique to avoid committing a dreaded “lifting” infraction.


THE COMPETITION

In the modern Olympics, there are two different race walking events:

  • 20-kilometer race walk
  • 50-kilometer race walk

20-kilometer race walk
Both men and women compete in 20-kilometer race walks, which begin from a standing start.

IAAF rules spell out the differences between running and walking. Competitors who cross the boundary from walking to running during a race walk are cited for “lifting” infractions. Basically, the walker’s front foot must be on the ground when the rear foot is raised. Also, the front leg must straighten when it makes contact with the ground.

Race walking judges can caution competitors who push the envelope a touch too far by showing them a yellow paddle. The same judge cannot give a walker a second caution. When a walker clearly fails to comply with the walking rules the judge sends a red card to the chief judge. Three red cards, from three different judges, will result in a competitor’s disqualification.

Additionally, the chief judge can disqualify an athlete inside the stadium (or in the final 100 meters of a race that takes place solely on a track or on a road course) if the competitor clearly violates the walking rules, even if the competitor has not accumulated any red cards.

50-kilometer race walk
The rules for this men’s-only event are the same as the 20-kilometer version.


EQUIPMENT AND VENUE

Olympic events take place on roads, which is why Olympic race walkers cannot set world records – only times set on tracks are eligible for world record consideration. Like the marathon, race walk events often begin and end in the Olympic stadium.


GOLD, SILVER, AND BRONZE

Athletes in the race walking events must achieve an Olympic qualifying time and must qualify for their nation’s Olympic team. A maximum of three competitors per country may compete in any race walking event.

No preliminary heats were held during the 2004 Olympics. At the Athens Games, 48 men and 57 women participated in their respective 20-kilometer race walking events, while 54 men competed in the 50-kilometer event.

As with all races, walking events end when a competitor’s torso (not the head, arm or leg) crosses the finish line.

Read more about Olympic Race Walking Rules and Scoring.

Back to Olympic Race Walking main page

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