On Rewriting History and Definitions : A Response

There’s a bit of a hullabaloo going on over at the Race Walking Facebook page about the Race Walking Association’s decision to make this year’s National 50 kilometres championship a ‘B’ classified race. Obviously it is an effort to boost the number competing. In the end I think it is a mistake born of good intentions. If it is a Championship it must be held under Championship rules. However I was irritated by the tone of some of the comments generated, particularly by Quentin Crewe, the leading New Zealand walker, who argues:

This is a real backwards step for UK Racewalking. The RWA has obviously admitted defeat. In making this ‘championship’ a B race, they’re effectively giving up on promoting the sport. They’re giving up on helping any athletes who might be internationally competitive. They should stop calling themselves the Race Walking Association, because the activity they’re organising here is not race walking. Maybe they should rename themselves The Walking Association. I’m not even joking there – remember that the rule states “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.” If you allow bent knees then it isn’t race walking.

Perhaps I’m over-reacting, but the idea that race walking only began in 1996 when the above definition was cobbled together offended my sense of history. Hence I posted the following.

I hesitate to bring to your attention a web site that focuses on the history of a particular British race walking club, whose members thought they were race walking when they complied with the pre-1996 definition, the last 1972 version of which read: ‘Walking is progression by steps so taken that unbroken contact with the ground is maintained. At each step, the advancing foot of the walker must make contact with the ground before the rear foot leaves the ground. During the period of each step when a foot is on the ground, the leg must be straightened (i.e. not bent at the knee) at least for one moment, and in particular, the supporting leg must be straight in the vertical upright position.’

Lest I’m misunderstood I am not arguing for rewinding history. That is absurd. However the implication that a competitor abiding by the 1972 definition was/is a ‘crawler’ or a ‘shuffler, not a real race walker, is patronising and insulting to past generations of athletes. So for what it’s worth, if you are intrigued by the past, you might take a look at https://lancswalkingclub.com/

There isn’t going to be a logical progression to posts. It will simply be an eclectic mix of memories – images and stories.

And if anyone has any photos in the loft of Lancashire walkers I’d be chuffed if you can send them to tonymtaylor@gmail.com

followed by:

There is no doubt that the revision to the definition in 1996 was impelled by the dilemmas of judging at an international level. I’m not one for simplistic connections. Consequences are usually contradictory. However it seems perverse not to recognise that the collapse of numbers competing over the last couple of decades is linked partially to the change in definition. Just because I’ve been looking at the history of the various 10 miles championships we are talking, say, of the loss in a championship of around 200 walkers clocking times between 75 and 95 minutes. These walkers, almost none of which made international level, were the heart and soul of the sport in terms of the individual and team battles of the period. I suspect this collective spirit will never be seen again at a national level. For better or worse race walking seems to be an elite event for the few with a generation of veterans filling out the picture. I’m very happy to be proved mistaken.

Well that’s off my chest – what are your thoughts?

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2 Responses to On Rewriting History and Definitions : A Response

  1. Michael George says:

    Though I agree with most of your sentiments I don’t really see where q annoys you so much? He doesn’t say anyone before then is creeping.

    • Tony Taylor says:

      Michael – perhaps I’m being oversensitive and showing my age. The thread on the Facebook page did then include pompous comments about folk refusing to walk in the same race as crawlers etc…. As it happens I do think ‘B races should be judged on the
      1972 definition, which demands a straightened knee at the vertical. Ironically I do think the 1996 definition has been adopted simplistically, not allowing any flexibility for judges. The definition says ‘straightened’ not ‘straight’, which is then reinterpreted as ‘locked’ on contact. ‘Straightened’ is an active not a static concept. It implies that the knee is straightening on contact, which if so and the knee then stays straight through to the vertical rules out the possibility of ‘bent knee’ crawling. A judge making this call in favour of the walker is no less problematic than the judge making a favourable call on contact. For what it’s worth I think such an interpretation would be less aggressive and more supportive of a greater number of competitors, whilst in no way condoning ‘bent knees’.

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