POSTED: April 13th 2017

NEIL WILSON: Olympic 50km race walk saved for Tokyo 2020 - but has it a future?

The Rio 2016 50km race walk © Getty Images
The Rio 2016 50km race walk © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) A former colleague of mine once wrote that race walking was a non-sequitar. It was, he maintained, as illogical as whispering loudly.

Certainly, it has long been something of a joke, the swivelling gait necessary to comply with its rules reminding you of a woman in a tight skirt and stilettos racing for a bus. It is not hip, at least not to the young.

That, in part, is what threatens the future of the longest event in Olympic track and field, the 50km walk. Yesterday the council of the International Association of Athletic Federations decided to keep it in its programme for Tokyo in 2020 but left no certainty beyond.

The 50km race walk entered the Olympic Games in 1932 in Los Angeles. "An event that truly represents the Olympic spirit in its splendour, not the business the Olympic turned into," said Yohann Diniz, three times champion of Europe.

Yet it is not its quirkiness - or any absence of commercial appeal - that threatens it. After all, race walking is no more odd than the breaststroke, an event invented to ensure competitors raced more slowly than front crawl. What is held against the 50km walk is that it is gender specific. In the Olympics there is an event for men but not women, the only single gender event in the sport's programme

The International Olympic Committee wants gender equality. International federations are under pressure to deliver. So cycling proposes a women's Madison to match the return of the men's event. Swimming, bizarrely, proposes a mixed synchronized event. The IAAF suggests a mixed gender track walk relay, creating an oddity of an oddity.

A simpler expedient would be to add a 50km race for women to take place simultaneously to save time in the programme, just as big city marathon are run concurrently.

I hold no brief for race walking but I am a traditionalist. The IOC presently is jumping on the bandwagon of ever y fad. Kids somewhere invent a new way of risking life and limb and the IOC and their television masters want it in their Games.  Hence, the many varieties of skiing and now indoor rock climbing.

Since space in 16 days is limited others we grew accustomed to in the 20th century are threatened. I don't doubt modern pentathlon, the sport created by the IOC itself for 1912, feels the hot breath of the modernizers on its neck before each Olympiad.

At this month's SportAccord many federations revealed their wish lists for 2020. A new bastardised form of basketball, 3 x 3, is one, a competitive sport first trialled by FIBA as recently as 2007. In all 25 new events across 15 events are proposed. In with the new, out with the old seems the IOC's preoccupation.

A rallying cry from 60 world class race walkers well organized and lawyered - and possibly the support of the Tokyo organisers - protected the event this time. But unless the traditionalists start fighting back, its days and those of other ancient events may be numbered.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson

For more information contact:
Laura Walden ()

All original materials contained in this section are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Sports Features Communications, Inc the owner of that content. It is prohibited to alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.