A Spectator's Guide to Race Walk Judging
Introduction: As in most sports events, the officials play an important role in maintaining a balanced field for all contestants. The following should help the spectator that is unfamiliar with the Athletics event of Race Walking become familiar with the superb athleticism of the walkers and the actions of the judges.
How Fast Are They Going: With the race walking world records at 1:16:43 for the men’s 20k, 1:25:41 for the women’s 20k and 3:34:14 for the 50K, the regular weekend runner should be impressed with a sub 40 minute 10K and sub 3Hr marathon while on the way to the longer distance. Perhaps even more amazing is the turnover rate of 3.5 steps per second for the men in a 20k and over 3.0 steps per second for the 20k women and 50k men. By comparison, a 100m runner turns over approximately 4.5 steps per second for 10 seconds, not for over one hour. Those men and women race walkers are quick and strong!
Definition (IAAF Rule 230): “Race Walking 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 shall be straightened (i.e. not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until the vertical upright position.” Simply stated, without any visual aide assistance, the judges watch the walkers for both feet off the ground or the failure to straighten the support leg at the knee from the moment of contact with the ground until it passes under the torso.
Judge’s Actions: While observing the walkers, the judges take care to watch a ‘progression of steps’ before deciding if a walker is not complying with the definition. Also, it is important that the judges work independently. The eight judges on the course have yellow paddles with the symbols ~ and >. A judge will show a walker a yellow paddle when the athlete is ‘in danger’ of failing to comply with the definition. The ~ represents loss of contact and > represents a bent knee.
If a judge observes a walker failing to comply with the definition, the judge writes a Red Card (a proposal for disqualification). With the help of an assistant, that proposal is electronically transmitted to a Recorder (stationed near the stadium) where the information is displayed on a large Red Card Posting Board. When it is verified that at least three separate judges (three different countries) have written a Red Card against a walker, that walker is notified of his or her disqualification by being shown a Red Paddle by the Chief Judge or one of his Assistant Chief Judges (this accelerates the notification process). It is only the Chief Judge or Assistants that have the authority to notify a walker of their disqualification. It is important to understand that multiple yellow paddles do NOT add up to Red Cards.
In the stadium, during the last 100m, the Chief Judge has the authority to disqualify a walker who is obviously not complying with the definition regardless of any prior Red Cards, IAAF Rule 230.3a.