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banner Saturday, 11 August, 2001, 07:01 GMT 08:01 UK
Walkers take it in their stride
Olimpiada Ivanova and Kerry Saxby-Junna lead the women's 20k walk in Edmonton
The women walk the walk at the Worlds
By BBC Sport Online's Tom Fordyce in Edmonton

Saturday, and the event you've all been waiting for - the men's 50k walk.

Don't give me that. Come now. Forget the joys of watching Mo Greene in the 100m, Stacy Dragila in the pole vault or Haile Gebrselassie at 10,000m.

It's Poland's Robert Korzeniowski and Russia's Nikolai Matyukhin you really want to see, isn't it? It isn't?

Don't worry. You're not alone. Even compared to the idiosyncratic triple jump and hammer throw, the walk is a strange event.

To the layman - hell, to the professional watcher - any race where you can be disqualified for going too fast is a bit of a puzzler.

Olimpiada Ivanova in action in Edmonton
Mincing at speed?
Visually it's the strangest thing on two legs you are ever likely to see.

Lose contact with the ground and you risk being thrown out.

Lift your rear foot before the front one hits the deck and you're in trouble.

From the moment of first contact with the surface, the advancing leg has to be straightened, which explains the bizarre gait - described by an unkind colleague as "mincing at speed" - of the racers.

Don't be fooled by the pace into thinking there is a shortage of drama.

Eagle-eyed judges watch along the route for transgressions.

Two white warning cards and you're teetering on the brink. If a red follows, you're out.


Australian Jane Saville was 150 metres from Olympic glory in front of 100,000 of her fellow countrymen in Sydney last year.

She had led the way in the 20k walk for some time and was so far out in front that there was no need to hurry. But she did.

That was the point when one extremely brave/spoilsport official (depending on your point of view) decided to show her the red. Out. All over. Kaput. Her Olympic dream was gone.

"I was thinking that this was going to be the most awesome experience of my life, but it was not," she said afterwards. "It's bitterly disappointing."

Race walking actually has a longer history than many of the more glamourous track and field events.

Robert Korzeniowski cannot believe he has won the 50k Olympic gold
The effort of Olympic gold hits Robert Korzeniowski
Competitions were first inspired by the 12th Century practices of English footmen, who alternated running and walking as they accompanied their masters' coaches.

The first organised competitions took place at the end of the 18th Century and were often over incredible distances.

Some races went on for 24 hours, a few for an insane six days.

There was a seven mile race at the 1866 British Championships before the event made its Olympic debut in 1912

Distances switched and changed until 1956, when the current 20k (men and women) and 50k (men only) marks were chosen.

Although there's no British walker to cheer on Saturday (you'll get over it), the UK does have a proud tradition in the sport.

Tommy Green holds the record as the oldest winner of the Olympic 50k - he took gold in 1932 at the age of 38.

Doesn't that get you thinking? Let's be honest - most of us can walk already. It's not like learning the pole vault or triple jump.

I bet you walk pretty much every day of your life. Maybe, just maybe, with a bit of practice, you could be flying the flag at the next World Championships.

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