Olympic Race Walking Rules

Race Walking Event
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In the Olympics, men compete in 20-kilometer and 50-kilometer race walking events while women participate in a 20-kilometer race walk.

Race Walking Defined

IAAF rules spell out the differences between running and walking. Competitors who cross the boundary from walking to running during a race walk are cited for “lifting” infractions. Basically, the walker’s front foot must be on the ground when the rear foot is raised. Also, the front leg must straighten when it makes contact with the ground.

Race walking judges can caution competitors who push the envelope a touch too far by showing them a yellow paddle. The same judge cannot give a walker the second caution. When a walker clearly fails to comply with the walking rules the judge sends a red card to the chief judge. Three red cards, from three different judges, will result in a competitor’s disqualification.

Additionally, the chief judge can disqualify an athlete inside the stadium (or in the final 100 meters of a race that takes place solely on a track or on a road course) if the competitor clearly violates the walking rules, even if the competitor has not accumulated any red cards.

The Competition

No preliminary heats were held during the 2004 Olympics. At the Athens Games, 48 men and 57 women participated in their respective 20-kilometer race walking events, while 54 men competed in the 50-kilometer event.

The Start

All race walking events begin with a standing start. The start command is, “On your marks.” Competitors may not touch the ground with their hands during the start. As in all races – except those in the decathlon and heptathlon – race walkers are permitted one false start but are disqualified for their second false start.

The Race

Walkers do not race in lanes. The event ends when a competitor’s torso (not the head, arm or leg) crosses the finish line.