Race Walking, Judging and Other Random Thoughts
Gosh, I wrote this in 1996 when I
perceived a lot of issues in Australian racewalking. I am happy to
report 14 years later that we have come a long way since that time.
Many of the recommendations below have now been implemented. I believe
that the current standard of walk coaching and walk judging in
Australia is now very good. But I leave the article intact as a
historical piece. Enjoy...Tim Erickson
There are, of course, no easy answers to the continual questions being raised with regard to the sport of race walking.. This same discussion has gone on unabated for most of this century. I have no startlingly new ideas to throw into the debate but wish to simply expand the topic a little and place it in a larger context.
We are continually bombarded with criticism of the judging standard of major walks, both here in Australia and overseas. We are presented with photographs showing competitors clearly off the ground - yet disqualifications do not automatically flow. Where do we stand? Who is to blame for this situation? It is too simplistic to blame the judges yet this is what happens continually.
There are various factors at work in this situation and they are as follows
- coaches and parents
- the various walking bodies in Australia
Let’s take them one at a time.
Many times, we watch races and criticize the judges - that competitor is clearly off the ground. What’s wrong with the judges - are they blind? Well, it’s easy to criticize from the grandstand. Have you ever tried judging? Your whole perspective changes. You are forced to look much more critically at the situation and what was a blatant offense might not be so clear now. Remember that the judge should only report a walker if that walker is clearly breaking the rules - the benefit of the doubt exists. That is why we see so many walkers finishing a race on two warnings and five cautions - the other judges were not sure so had to give the benefit of the doubt to the walker.
However, certain things must be said in all honesty
- It is not fair for walkers to have to be judged very severely at one meeting and to be judged leniently at another. Consistency is needed.
- Consistency is also needed in certain areas. I watched the walks at the recent Olympics and was shocked to see competitors blatantly run around the turns and run past the feeding stations as they took liquids. Surely a walking race requires the competitor to walk at all times!. Yet sometimes this is judged and at other times it is not. This is not fair to the competitors.
- Judges should not only be competent but they should also be impartial - that means that a judge cannot be seen to be connected with certain cliques, coaches, parents or athletes. Vested interests always cloud judgment. I do not feel that this is an issue in Australia.
- Judges must be held accountable for their actions. To this effect, some sort of national register is needed. Judges’ performance must be monitored. Inconsistencies must be actioned. The judge who gives far too many reports and the judge who judges too leniently must both be brought to account.
- Judging a race walk is a very technical specialty. It requires thorough training. This training is currently one of apprenticeship. The judge works his/her way up through the ranks and is gradually given more responsibility as experience grows. However, there does not seem to be a coordinated approach to this. A coach has to pass graded exams and show a real understanding of the biomechanics of walking. Are our judges put through any such rigorous discipline? How often is a top race videotaped and then replayed for the judges so that they can appraise their performance? Did you know that after an AFL match, the umpires sit through the entire match with their adviser who looks at every decision and dissects their performance? Does any such thing happen with walking judges?
- Such things can only happen if the work of the judge is awarded a much higher profile and funds are made available for the continuing education of judges. This should be seen as a priority for AFRWC.
Thank goodness we have so many dedicated judges willing to give so much of their time to the sport. It is their commitment that keeps us going. In many cases they get nothing out of it except for criticism and ill feeling. Yet my brief associations with them has convinced me that they generally do a good job at major championships in Australia. However, things could still be improved as I have outlined above.
Some would say it is unfair to level criticism at the walkers. If a walker goes past 6 judges without getting disqualified, it is fair for that person to assume he/she is walking correctly and can perhaps try a little harder and push the limit a little further. I do not accept this premise. I was a race walker for a long time and I believe that walkers should be trying to walk within the rules at all times. I feel that many walkers try to simply just go as fast as they can with no real thought of the mechanics involved or the consequences of this approach. I make the following comments on this matter
- Every training session should include style work. Style should be continually worked on by the athlete. Only then can a walker hope to maintain technique during the latter parts of a race.
- Every walker should be trying to improve technique. This is the best long term way to improve performance. The winners at the Olympics normally have the best styles.
- It is pointless to train with a bent knee or run down the hills in training. You cannot do this in a race so you should not do it in training. Yet I have seen this again and again. It is pointless to do a long road session or a short track session if you do not try to walk it as you will be forced to walk during a race. Sloppiness breeds bad style.
- One of the unfortunate outcomes of forcing young adolescent walkers into a diet of fast track training and intensive workouts is the fast rough track walker. Style has been sacrificed for speed. This will stay to haunt this walker for many years. A bad technique at an early age, if not corrected, will ruin a career.
Coaches and Parents:
Coaches are the single biggest reason for our current problems with style and judging. It goes without saying that if the coaches were doing their jobs, the judges would have little to do. Let me elaborate.
- Unfortunately our coaches are not working enough on style with our walkers. That is obvious once you look at a few track races. Style has been sacrificed for short term speed gains.
- Coaches and parents do not look critically enough at their charges. The comment you hear is one of “He was walking OK. I cannot believe he has been disqualified.” Well, you must be the only one with this opinion as most of the others felt it was justified.
- Coaches must realize that walking is a long distance event and athletes must be made to focus on the long term as well as the short term. Athletes must be gradually pointed towards the longer distances and away from the track. Short term track races are an aberration and not really what walking is all about. To achieve in longer distances requires a different approach in which the walker goes out at a more leisurely pace in training and concentrates on technique and relaxation.
- Coaches must be scientific and technical. You need a video-camera if you are a serious coach. You need to film both your athlete and other athletes. Dissect the style and concentrate on the obvious areas of concern. Only the fully rounded walker can truly achieve at the top level.
The governing bodies:
There is a growing need for the various bodies in Australia (AFRWC, AIS, etc) to become involved in a more active way in the development of walking in Australia. Now we know for instance that the AFRWC holds various carnivals and this is great. But so much more could be done at both state and national level. Some things that spring to mind are
- Coaching camps for walkers
- Setting up an association for walking coaches
- Seminars for racewalking coaches
- A national newsletter on walking issues
- A national register of articles and books on race walking - available for lending and distribution.
- A strong presence on the Internet.
There are resources available at State and Institute level but nothing much seems to filter down to those at the bottom of the rung. I am aware of a few things that stand out for me
- The coaching camps run by the Racewalking National Event Coaches in past years
- The Junior Race Walking Squad set up by Mark Donahoo in Victoria
- The AFRWC national newsletter that Peter Waddell put out for a while in the 1960’s
- Peter Waddell’s fine books on Race Walking in Australia.
We as a sport must be more evangelical in our approach. It is no good being apologetic for being a race walker. We should be proud of our event and working to make it an even bigger sport in Australia.
Let’s face it. The media are sensationalist and ignorant. Even the so-called experts know nothing about walking. We will always be fodder for such things.. The only thing we can do is to aim to minimize the effect of such negative reporting by getting our own house in order.
So don’t just blame the judge. Work towards making the whole scene better by looking at the big picture and working to fix the causes rather than the symptoms.
Tim Erickson 30/12/96