2010 - IAAF World Race Walking Cup
Personal Commentary, Observations from Chihuahua
Over the past weekend I had the wonderful experience of photographing at the 2010 IAAF World Race Walking Cup. For many reasons, the competitions created issues, some old and some new that I thought I would give my personal commentary upon. These are a single person's individual views who took over 5,000 photos and high speed video of the 5 races. Unlike most of the photographers that were experiencing their first race walk, my background enabled me to see and look at the race differently. While I strive for some artistic photographs, over time I have become increasingly more tuned to take photographs that can be used to educate as well as entertain. So here are my observations and thoughts.
Before the races ever began controversy seemed to float above these games. While I was hiking in New Zealand I received emails about the intense crime problem in Chihuahua questioning whether we would be safe. While the emails gave me pause, I am have put myself in precarious situations before and wasn't about to miss the World Cup out of fear. Once we arrived in Chihuahua, due to some hotel mix ups I toured quite a bit of Chihuahua. Sure there are some scary areas, just like other cities, but there are also incredibly gorgeous areas as well. At no point did I feel unsafe. Buses with police escorts shuttled us everywhere and unlike many places I visited on my own I was not in fear if I popped my head out of my hotel. That said, there is a real danger as the newspaper had photos of three decapitated bodies found in a ditch. Much like in America, you just have to be sensible about where you go.
The other prerace controversy was whether athletes should go given the potentially difficult race conditions from the heat and altitude that would ensue. As a former competitive walker that never qualified for the World Cup, it is hard for me to think I would pass up an opportunity to represent the USA. However, this decision is a personal one. The Germans stayed home as did some of the American athletes. Personally, I know some of the decisions were made due to conflicting goals of competing at the World Cup versus trying to gain a qualifying standard where race conditions were more ideal. Others had issues with school. A decision to go or not clearly must come from the athlete and coach. As the races unfolded, the fears of difficult race conditions evolved into reality and fast times were scarce. Many Americans didn't even get to finish due to time standards within the races themselves as well as individual difficulties. These issues clearly has a lot of gray area and I will not judge others decisions, but it turned the race for the Americans into a swan song for some, and development for others, while leaving us with an inability to score a team in any race other than the junior men's. Not what we strive for. Hopefully, the great performance of the junior men with the hard work everyone is doing to get the walk in school programs will pay off for the future.
Given these precursors, I have to say that having photographed at two Olympics, one previous World Cup, and one World Championships the competition in Chihuahua may have been the best of any of these elite meets. Unlike the 2009 Women's Olympic 20K Race Walk, most of these walks were all out wars. Teammates working together, individuals surged ahead, frequent lead changes ruled the day. If you blinked you were liable to lose track of who was where. Any mistake was magnified by the high temperatures combined with the thin air. Surge too soon, and you were done.
On a negative note, with fierce competition and adverse conditions comes the potential for athletes to push the barrier of legality. Normally, when I photograph a race it's very difficult for me to comment upon the legality of individual walkers. This was not the case in Chihuahua. More than one walker was visibly walking with bent knees in the latter part of the 50K. Checking the judging sheet, one walker received no red cards whatsoever. I can't imagine what judges are seeing or not seeing. In the Men's 20K some walkers were flying ridiculously high and again the individual I checked received no calls. What is worrisome is that other walkers did receive calls, although few received enough to be disqualified. Where is the consistency from judge to judge and walker to walker? When we did our research at the World Championships in Berlin, our results should have been a wakeup call, but besides a few judges it seems we did not have a big enough effect. Are judges afraid to disqualify walkers? Disqualifications for a race walking infractions should not be seen as any more of a mark against our sport than penalty flags in American football.
I'll end on a positive point in that the individuals we dealt with could not have been nicer and more helpful. Surrounded by Spanish speaking people with my broken 3rd grade level of Spanish, I never had an issue. People were generous with their time showing great patience to help in any way possible.
Our upcoming clinics include:
July 10th & 11th, 2010 - Cincinnati, OH