By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
As long as you’re racewalking for fitness in your neighborhood, no Racewalk Police will ever jump out of the bushes and cite you for breaking any racewalking rules. However, if you decide to enter an official racewalk competition, then you will have to abide by the Rules – specifically Racewalking Rule 191 of the IAAF Congress that was accepted by USA Track & Field and applies to all USATF racewalks.
Although there are many techniques that define smooth, efficient racewalking, there are only two rules that we must follow or risk disqualification. The definition of racewalking states,
Racewalking is a progression of steps so taken that the walker makes contact with the ground, so that no visible (to the human eye) loss of contact occurs. The advancing leg must be straightened (i.e. not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until in the vertical upright position.
WHAT IT MEANS
The first part of the rule differentiates racewalking from running. A racewalker must have one foot on the ground at all times, or at least it must appear that way to the racewalk judges. Often a photo or video have “caught” a walker with both feet off the ground. Yet, that walker has not broken any rules since loss of contact must be visible “to the human eye.” Cameras don’t count.
The second part of the rule differentiates racewalking from regular (bent-knee) walking and also from running. It means that the racewalker’s knee must be straight as soon as the foot (hopefully the heel) makes initial contact with the ground.
IF YOU BREAK THE RULES
If a racewalker is not in compliance with either of these two rules, a red card will be filled out by the judge who sees the violation. This is called a “Warning” although you are not actually warned by that judge about the infraction. If three different judges write up a red card on a particular racewalker, that racewalker will be disqualified from the race. You may not know that you’ve been disqualified until after the race is over. In larger or more important racewalk events (without combination runs) there is a DQ Board visible at the finish area that racewalkers may view as they pass by and see if they have any Warnings posted.
In most local races, disqualification occurs once the race is over. If disqualified, it means that you will be eliminated from the possibility of winning an award. Yet, you will be allowed to finish the race, earn your T-shirt, and get all the food goodies that everyone else gets after the race.
In an official Championship racewalk, as soon as the Chief Judge determines that a competitor has received three red cards, the competitor will be approached by the Chief Judge and asked to leave the course. Don’t worry – that doesn’t happen in the local run/racewalk combination events which most of you will be doing.
YOU DON’T GET WARNED WHEN YOU GET A WARNING, BUT YOU MIGHT GET A CAUTION
Wow, how tricky is that? If a judge is sure that you are violating one of the rules (contact or straight knee) then, you get a “Warning” (the judge writes a red card), but you don’t get warned about your “Warning.”
A Caution is a different story. A Caution is a white paddle. No, they don’t run out on the course and hit you with it. Theoretically, you are shown a white paddle when a judge thinks you are in danger of breaking a rule, but you haven’t actually broken the rule yet. That’s a strange call. Beginners usually get leniency from the judges, who will sometimes give a Caution (white paddle) when actually a Warning (red card) should have been given.
Remember that a white paddle does not count against you in the race. If there are 10 judges and you get 10 white paddles, you still won’t be disqualified unless you get three red cards from three different judges. However, if you get 10 Cautions, there’s a good chance that you’ll probably get some red cards down the line.
THE DREADED RED PADDLE
The red paddle is the one we hope we never see. You will only see this paddle when the Chief Judge is disqualifying you on the course. You’ll only see it if three different judges, acting independently during the race, have determined that you were not walking according to the official rules of racewalking.
You should NEVER stop racewalking because you were shown a white paddle. Do not leave the course unless the Chief Judge specifically shows you the red paddle. I have been at national competitions where a racewalker saw three marks by her name on the DQ Board, decided that she was disqualified and walked off the course. After the race, we found that she had never received a third red card. It was the Recorder’s mistake to put the third mark on the DQ Board. The racewalker was in line for a silver medal in her age group had she not left the course.
Now that you know the rules, why not try a racewalk in your area? For those of you in the Tampa Bay area, the West Florida Y Running Club is including a Beginning Racewalk event in the annual Race for Santa on Friday, December 10. Look for information in the calendar section of this issue. And even if you’re ever disqualified in a local race, be sure to stay around and enjoy the food and festivities, which accompany most races. Even disqualified racewalkers deserve some fun.