First the Tour de France – now York bags a major walking event

Walking tall… (L-R) Ellie Dooley, Jasmine Nicholls, Tom Bosworth, Bethan Davies and Andi Drake
2 Dec 2013 @ 5.01 pm
| Sport
Walking tall… (L-R) Ellie Dooley, Jasmine Nicholls, Tom Bosworth, Bethan Davies and Andi Drake
Walking tall… (L-R) Ellie Dooley, Jasmine Nicholls, Tom Bosworth, Bethan Davies and Andi Drake

Ready yourselves for the unusual spectacle of The British Grand Prix of Race Walking, briskly shuffling into York next June.

The University of York has revealed that the brand new cycle circuit at its York Sport Village site is to play host to a major international race walking event.

The British Grand Prix of Race Walking will take place there on June 8, 2014, about a month ahead of the Tour de France coming to the city. It forms part of a season-long programme of events occurring in destinations across Europe, including countries as far-flung as Switzerland, Lithuania and Russia.

Organisers are anticipating an elite line-up for the event, with Olympic, World Championship and European medallists from over 20 countries expected to participate.

Yorkshire will be formidably represented by Commonwealth Champion and 20k British record holder Jo Jackson of Redcar and Leeds Met University student Tom Bosworth, widely considered one of Britain’s top race walking talents.

Event director Ian Richards said the York event would build on the legacy of the 2007 European Cup in Leamington Spa and last year’s Olympic events that drew crowds of 50,000 to The Mall.

York’s walks

York has a concrete, albeit reasonably distant historical link with the peculiar sport of race walking.

Over a period of many years starting in 1903, thousands of competitors would take part in the annual Whit Monday walk, which covered a gruelling 39-mile stretch between Bradford’s George Hotel and the Windmill Hotel in York.

The city’s race walking enthusiasts are currently served by the York CIU race walking club.

The rules

Race walking is not without its detractors – American commentator Bob Costas once compared the sport to “a competition for who can whisper the loudest”. Nevertheless, the discipline remains enduringly popular, with thousands of devotees in the UK alone.

The question is, how exactly is it supposed to be done? Here’s a quick guide to the mechanics of good race walking.

No loss of contact This rule decrees that the toes of a race-walker’s back foot may not leave the ground until the heel of the front foot has touched down, making the process of race walking somewhat akin to a forward-facing moonwalk, albeit a rather clunky one.

Straighten supporting leg Race walkers must maintain a straightened supporting leg from the point of contact with the ground until the body passes directly over it.

Rule enforcement These grimace-inducing rules are primarily enforced by officials judging competitors with the naked eye. With course distances regularly stretching over 20 kilometers, the task of ensuring all rules are abided by throughout the race is notoriously difficult.