They whip around the track at speeds up to 8.5 miles per hour. One foot must appear to have contact with the ground at all times, and knees should not bend until the body passes over the leg. And even though it’s time that determines who wins the races, there are judges who strictly enforce the rules. Three red cards and you’re out.
The sport of racewalking is the oft-misunderstood event of track and field. If you count yourself among those who struggle to keep it all straight, consider this your primer before the world’s best take the stage in Tokyo - in 2021.
Meet Decathlon-supported athletes Nick Christie and Robyn Stevens, who are likely to be representing the United States at the upcoming Olympic Games. The powerful duo, both geared up in our Newfeel racewalking gear, are not only teammates, but a couple. Based out of California, they each have a unique story on how they came to this under-the-radar sport. “I switched into racewalking in 2012 from a career in pole vaulting and decathlon,” says Christie.
For her part, Stevens has had two lives in the sport. The first goes back to middle school. “I met my youth club track and field coach, Claudia Wilde, after beating her fastest boy in a cross country meet,” she says. “She took me to watch an elite racewalking event at Stanford. Watching their legs move reminded me of ‘A Chorus Line,’ and with that correlation, I was sold.”
Stevens rose quickly in the ranks, eventually winning a U20 racewalking medal at the 1999 PanAm Games—to this day, she remains the only American to ever win gold in an international competition. But then came real life, injuries and other constraints, and Stevens spent 11 years away from the sport. In 2015, she returned to racewalking and on little training, qualified for the 2016 Olympic trials in the 20k, as well as the world team trials, the latter of which she made.
Today, both Christie and Stevens are on track to hopefully make the Tokyo team. Qualifying is a bit of a confusing path—a combination of world-class time standards and qualifying events--but the couple hopes to be on the line at the June team trials, both wearing Decathlon’s Newfeel race walking shoes and running apparel.
While both men and women racewalk the 20k and 50k distances, to date, only the men have the opportunity to compete in the 50k at the Olympics. This is especially disappointing to Stevens, as she became the first female to win both distances at the 2019 national championships. She’s part of a group of women challenging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to change the rule before Tokyo.
In the meantime, both Christie and Stevens continue their trials prep. “My weekly mileage varies between 80 and 140 miles,” says Christie. “Because racewalking has less impact than running, we can handle more days of speedwork within a typical week.”
While there are few racewalking groups training around the country, the couple belongs to a San Diego group. Still, both athletes do the bulk of their miles solo or sometimes, together. “I try to tailor my walks to fit Robyn’s schedule when it’s feasible,” says Christie. “We go to the gym and do our drills together, also.”
Lest you think racewalking is the ugly stepsister to running/the lesser of the two sports in challenge and athleticism, think again. “The aerobic engine is the same as running,” says Christie. “On top of that, it is very technique-focused and has an artistry to it.”
Interested in trying it yourself? There are citizen races around the country, sponsored by USA Track & Field. In addition, some high schools include racewalking in their events—scholarships to NAIA colleges are available, in fact.
UPDATE: the Olympic Games are now postponed to 2021. Stay tuned for updates about Nick and Robyn’s Olympic journey.