There are really only two rules that govern racewalking:
1-The first rules states that the athlete’s trailing foot’s toe cannot leave the ground until the heel of the leading foot has created contact. The rule violation is known as "loss of contact".
2-The second rule specifies that the supporting leg must straighten, essentially meaning knee extension (and for some, terminal extension, ie. negative 5-10 degrees !) from the point of contact with the ground and remain straightened until the body passes directly over it. Again, essentially meaning full range knee extension for the entire stance phase of gait (early, mid and late midstance phases). For those who do not study the details of gait, this may not seem like a huge issue, but it is because full lockout really never occurs in either walking or running. And there is nothing like impacting a joint in full extension lock and heavy heel strike to take away all of the natural shock absorbing mechanisms of the lower limb. (watch the video at the 4:30 mark, Dang ! the dude in the red looks like his knees are going to fold backward there is so my knee extension !) There is some great slow motion technique breakdown at the 6:28 minute mark of the video.
In getting around these 2 major rules:
- the hips must rotate a tremendous amount, with full pelvis rotation, to prevent the frontal plane pelvis motion which would be a loss of sagittal power. This produces the visually painful waddle that is classic to the sport.
- the arms are used aggressively to generate power and to help the lower limbs move through the cycle because of the unnaturally apropulsive nature of the overall technique. The arms also often move excessively into the frontal plane since they mirror the lower limb
- excessive lateral heel strike quite often ensues help keep the knee extended and in an attempt to keep the foot on the ground longer, to avoid getting red carded.
- there is plenty of cross over gait and severe lack of ankle dorsiflexion for everyone to observe, both of these components combined with the above characteristics give the “Close to the ground” appearance that is attempted by all racewalkers.
- want to see some seriously gut wrenching biomechanics, forward the video to the 7:55 mark. Tell us that won’t cause problems down the road !
Breaking the Rules:
The rules are entirely subjective and enforced by real-time human eye (not video) judges along the course (3 red card violations render an event disqualification). Interestingly, and we have seen this first hand, athletes quite regularly lose contact (meaning initiating a float phase, which is what dictates the difference between running and racewalking) for a few milliseconds per stride. This float can be detected on film/video which can be caught on film, but such a short flight phase is said to be undetectable to the human eye. Disqualifications (losing contact or bent knee) are routine at the elite level as evidenced by the famous 2000 Summer Olympic case of Jane Saville who was disqualified on her way to a gold medal.
Racewalking … . a highly technical sport, more so than running. If you ever get a chance to see someone do this sport first hand, it is truly engaging to a gait geek. Lots of eye candy, gait geek eye candy that is !
Shawn and Ivo… … the gait guys.