Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Newspaper Clippings

Every once in a while I clip and save newspaper and magazine articles. Hope it is OK to do it on my blog -- I am quoting the source and not taking credit for it.

Race walking

Is it a sport or not? Some track coaches try to deny it, but its supporters include competitors and coaches

January 21, 2007

Racewalking...what is it?

USA Track and Field defines it:

  • Racewalking 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 must be straightened (i.e., not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until in the vertical upright position.

Nate Rucker remembers sitting on the bus with his University of Dubuque track and field teammates waiting for their coach to give them the green light.

They had already arrived at the racing site, but the orders were to sit still because a racewalking event was still in progress on the track. Rucker’s coach refused to let his team file out of the bus with racewalkers in view.

“He said he didn’t want to subject us to having to watch it,” said Rucker, who now coaches racewalkers at Central Methodist University in Fayette.

That debate rages on. The legitimacy of the sport continues to be brought into question by collegiate track and field coaches who are intent on keeping the sport out of NCAA competition.

Michael Rohl, who is in his fifth year coaching track and field at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, has been at the forefront of this debate. An advocate for racewalking at the NCAA Division I level, Rohl has written proposals advocating the addition of racewalking to NCAA coaches and committees but has been met with hesitance and even hostility.

“There’s been a lack of exposure and limited competition experience in the past,” Rohl said. “Coaches, as a group, are very inertia-bound. If they are doing something, they go all at it. If they aren’t, they don’t want to start.”

The lack of respect is widespread. Mention the word “racewalking” and the response is often a laugh followed by a comment about hip movements. The authenticity of the sport continues to be hurt by its stigma.

Wayne Armbrust, a track coach who now coaches his wife, pointed out the uniqueness of the sport.

“Look at it,” Armbrust said, pointing to his wife as she circled the MU track. “It looks funny. It used to look a lot funnier in the old days where there used to be a big hip wiggle. A lot of people make fun of the walking until they see it and see what tremendous athletes these walkers are. A lot of coaches still just make fun of it and ridicule it.”

Rohl and Mike Dewitt, the racewalking coach at University of Wisconsin-Parkside, said they will continue to push for the introduction of the event at the Division I level. It may be that technology will eliminate the concerns of illegitimate judging. Or it may take the U.S. falling further behind in international competitions before a push is made.

“The bottom line is that it has been around for a while, and it’s not going anywhere,” DeWitt said. “I think somewhere down the line, if things change one way or another, if people get back to the grass roots and see track and field as an opportunity to help people be more fit, then someone might finally see that there is a place for racewalking.”

Against the odds

Columbian came from nowhere to win 1972 Olympic bronze in 50K racewalking

January 21, 2007

The case sits inconspicuously in the back corner of the foyer of Larry Young’s Columbia home. Young comments on how one of the gold medals needs to be shined. The National Track and Field Hall of Fame says there should be 30 of them, but Young can only find 25, each denoting a national title that he captured.

Columbia resident Larry Young sits in his Columbia home gallery with his Olympic medals and a pair of his racewalking shoes. Young, who majored in art at Columbia College, has retired from racewalking and is now a sculptor. (ZACH HONIG/Missourian)

Above those 25 medals are two others, these Olympic bronzes. They’re not glitzy and likely wouldn’t catch more than a swift glance from an ignorant passerby. That is, until Young tells his story.

Ironically, the distance runner in high school never had Olympic ambitions. Just after the start of his senior year, Young turned on the television at his parents’ home and saw England’s Don Thompson win a gold medal in the 50K racewalk at the 1960 Olympics. Young was hooked.

“The next day, I went to school and was mimicking what I saw,” Young said. “My coach said, ‘Young, you look pretty good.’ They joked, ‘Young, you can walk as fast as you can run it.’”

It wasn’t until 1965, after Young finished serving in the Navy, that he decided to enter a racewalking competition.

Three years later, he was walking in the Olympics.

As the Games approached, not a single track and field magazine had Young named as a medal contender. He wasn’t even mentioned as a dark horse.

The conditions on the morning of the race were less than ideal. Extensive heat and dense fog made the high-altitude course even more grinding.

He had dined earlier that week with Paul Nihill, an English racewalker who had finished second in the 50K race four years before, and the two talked about the race. They talked about the conditions and the pace. Despite the change in altitude, Nihill insisted the typical 4-hour 10-minute pace would still hold true. Young wasn’t so convinced.

“You guys go out at your 4-hour 10-minute pace, and I’ll see you at 40K,” Young told Nihill.

Sure enough, around the 35K mark, Young surpassed Nihill.

“I went out at a conservative pace,” Young said. “I just let them go. I knew what I was capable of, and I wasn’t going to get sucked into that pace.”

Young took the podium later that day to receive his bronze medal after finishing in 4 hours and 20 minutes.

After the race, teammates congratulated him. But then there were the whispers that the win was a fluke. It was the mistakes of other racewalkers that opened the path for Young, they told him. Young thought of only one way to dispute that claim: Do it again.

He qualified for the Munich Olympics in 1972 and once again finished third. After the race, he walked into the team room to deliver a message: “There’s another fluke, you guys.”

Those 1972 Olympics would be the last for Young.

Young retired when the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow, but he still holds the distinction of being the only American to win a long-distance racewalking medal in the Olympics.

Soon after, Young replaced walks around the track with hours in his art studio. Young, who majored in art at Columbia College, began to sculpt.

One of his sculptures stands at the intersection of U.S. 63 and Broadway. There is one in the University Hospital and clinics atrium and others at Columbia College and Stephens College.

Young no longer racewalks. The gravel roads in front of his house aren’t suitable for walking long distances. And he would prefer to spend his time in the studio adjacent to his stone home, anyway.

But inside that home a man still speaks with pride. He remembers the details and his times in nearly every race during his 15-year career.

Young reached an echelon of success in a sport where he and his fellow walkers were viewed as “the ugly ducklings of track and field.” And it’s what is in that trophy case, situated in the corner of the foyer, that tells the end of the story.

Missouri professor hopes to compete in her 15th Masters Championship

January 21, 2007

Gayle Johnson was never one to mock racewalkers. Actually, she had always found a sort of intrigue in the sport.

“I always thought racewalking was kind of interesting,” said Johnson, a professor of veterinary medicine at MU. “It had all these restrictions, kind of like being an adult, where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Wayne Armbrust times his wife, Gayle Johnson, as she practices at the Hearnes Center. Armbrust is both Johnson’s coach and husband. Racewalking is how the two met. The peak of Johnson’s racewalking career came during the 2000-2001 season, in which she set a world record among women ages 50-54. (BRANDON KRUSE/Missourian)

So when she saw Jack Mortland, a 1964 Olympian, racewalking though an Ohio park one day in 1988, she decided to pick his brain. Johnson had been running marathons since the mid-1970s. However, she figured racewalking could provide a new challenge as well as less wear on her body.

Now, at the age of 58, Johnson has competed in U.S. Championship races, finishing as high as 10th in her age group one year, and even in the 2002 National Championship as a racewalker in Eugene, Ore.

Racewalking even played an indirect role in helping Johnson meet her husband. Only a few months after Johnson met Mortland, Wayne Armbrust first spotted her walking around the Ohio State fieldhouse track. Armbrust, a level-three certified track coach, began to coach Johnson in the sport. Three years later, the two married.

Johnson’s peak came during the 2000-2001 season, which included setting a world record among women ages 50-54 at an indoor 3K race at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

After recovering from a broken arm last year, Johnson has picked up her training regimen in hopes of earning an invitation to her 15th Masters Championship next year.

“People may decide that because someone is walking, they can’t run,” said Johnson, who trains daily, often with Armbrust standing alongside. “For me, I look at it as an alternative.”

Moving past the laughter

Central Methodist senior, first amused by sport, is current NAIA champion

January 21, 2007

When Patrick Stroupe showed up at the Central Methodist University track in Fayette as a freshman in 2003, he saw then-junior Beth Lewis walking around the track and started laughing.

Her form was odd, he thought, and the sport even stranger. He mocked her movement until Gary Stoner, CMU’s track and field coach at the time, told Stroupe he should give it a try.

Patrick Stroupe practices separately from the rest of the Central Methodist track team in November 2006. ( MAGDA SAKAAN/Missourian)

Four months later, Stroupe claimed the NAIA outdoor racewalking championship.

The track event has allowed Stroupe, a mediocre long-distance track runner in high school, the opportunity to compete each year for a national championship. The only catch? Now it’s his turn to be on the receiving end of the jokes.

“I still get heckled and laughed at all the time, but that’s OK,” Stroupe said. “Like one time, I was walking up through a park, and an old lady said, ‘My, you walk funny.’”

Last summer, Stroupe received an invitation to represent the U.S. team at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Islands Track and Field Meet in the Dominican Republic. One of two racewalkers on the U.S. team, Stroupe finished last in the 10K racewalk, although three of the other eight walkers were disqualified for technical errors.

Stroupe has set a goal of claiming his second indoor and third outdoor NAIA championships this year. Then the sights shift to the U.S. Championships and Olympic trials.

He still takes the jokes and teasing in good stride. He’s learned to love an often-stigmatized sport, and he knows that more success is on the horizon. All anyone has to do is listen to his voice mail recording.

“Hi, this is Patrick Stroupe. I’m out winning a national championship.”

Copyright © 2007 Columbia Missourian