2013 IAAF World Championships
Moscow, Russia - Commentary - USA
Where is USA Race Walking Headed?
Many hard working people have tried many methods to improve race walking in the USA. What do the results of the IAAF World Championships say about the future of USA race walking? This year’s World Championships come the year after the Olympics, a notoriously down year for USA race walking in general. This year’s squad had one representative in the men’s 20km and 50km, but three women in the 20km (a first since 2001).
Let’s look at each event individually. I’ll start with the bright spot, the women’s 20km. Fielding three women (Maria Michta, Erin Gray, and Miranda Melville) we had high hopes for a great showing. Great for the USA is of course subjective. I don’t think anyone expected them to be standing on the podium, but for a post Olympic year if the squad walked to their potential I think Americans would be satisfied. Unfortunately, for the USA most of our squad is doing double duty as an elite athlete and higher education students. In an Olympic year, obviously one may put more emphasis on walking then school, but the year after the Olympics it’s fair to say school takes a priority. Still the results for Maria and Erin were great. In warm conditions, Maria walked her 2nd fastest 20km of her career. This was second only to her excellent Olympic performance. Erin walked a PR after starting med school this year. Both performances should be commended and are a harbinger of good things to come. Unfortunately, we never got to see what Miranda had in the tank. She got disqualified just after 10km and if you read my overall commentary on the races you would know I am dumbfounded as to why she got the boot. She looked solid and in control. I was looking forward to seeing another tenacious push through the field and a great finish. Fortunately, for USA race walking Miranda is a tough competitor and will be back with a vengeance.
In the men’s 20km, we had long time, VERY LONG TIME, veteran Tim Seaman. Tim hoped to have a better race, but struggled before reaching 10km. What does it mean for USA race walking? Really, you have to look at the trial race. Tim won a race, that his competition let him win. There were many factors to this including others having bad days, injuries, etc. Hats off to Tim for qualifying for his 5th World Championships. However, if we are looking to the future of USA race walking, it’s no longer Tim Seaman the athlete, but Tim Seaman the coach. In that regard we have hope. Of course, everyone would like to see Trevor Barron return and be in medal contention. Time will tell on that account. However, as Obi Won said, “there is another” or in our case others. Tim is working with Nick Christie, Alex Chavez, Tyler Sorenson and others. They are the future of USA men’s race walking and if they continue to progress the future is bright. In addition to Tim’s group, Patrick Stroupe is and has been on the precipice of a major breakthrough. It’s a numbers game. One reason the Russians do so well (ok other than the 4 million dollar race walking budget) is the multitude of bodies they can throw at the event. A single injured athlete is easily replaced. By having many up and coming walkers along with veterans Stroupe and Nunn, America’s 2016 20km outlook is brighter than it’s been in a long time.
As we turn to the men’s 50km, the outlook is not as optimistic. The issue isn’t of talent. John Nunn has been walking well (prior to Moscow) and there is no reason to believe he won’t continue to progress as a 50km specialist. However, as seen in Moscow, a 50km is a long way to go and to have a sole competitor in the race leaves no backup when the race doesn’t unfold as planned. Our problem is depth. Who is behind John in the 50km? In recent years we’ve filled the 50km squad at the World Cups with sub-par teams of fierce competitors whose best days may have been 20 years ago. This is not to take away from a 45-50 year old competitor who qualifies for an international team. They certainly should be proud of their accomplishment. However, if we are being honest, they are qualifying for these teams because of a failure of our system to develop a deep squad of 50km athletes. The issues is clearly the time commitment required by the 50km. We’ve had talented walkers like Ben Shorey dabble in the event, but not take it seriously enough over a continual time period to make an impact. Hopefully, as the efforts of AC Jaimie and others to increase the depth of our program from the ground up reaches maturity, we will see a significant improvement.