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Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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July 5, 2008 10:37 AM

Olympic Trials: A Walk in the Parking Lot.

Posted by Rod Mar

Got up early and dragged my buddy Jim out to see the 20k men's race walk at the Olympic Trials.

These poor guys. Everyone else gets to compete in historic Hayward Field, site of so many memorable races from Prefontaine to Salazar. These guys walk laps in the parking lot of Autzen Stadium, site of so many vomits and outdoor urinations before Oregon Duck football games.

But finishing in the top three means you've punched your ticket to the Beijing Olympics, so they come and they walk.

Racewalking is at first blush an easy sport to make fun of. It looks kind of silly and your first thought is, "well, if you want to go fast, why not just run?"

Then you watch them and realize they're walking fast (and further) than you can run.

For a better account of racewalking read Jim's column over at

The rules of race walking naturally say, that you can't run. One's lead leg must be straight -- don't even try to bend those knees (!) and one foot must be in contact with the ground at all time. You get three infractions and then you're disqualified.

In other words, this is an illegal racewalking stride:

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/320th sec., f2.8)

While the backgrounds at Hayward Field are either Nike signs or bleachers full of fans, the backgrounds at the racewalking often included parked cars, dilapidated bleachers facing the wrong way, or portable toilets.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 140mm, ISO 400, 1/20th sec., f14)

That said, the photo restrictions were just as tight. Despite there only being three or four credentialed photographers at the event, meet officials forbade most of us from shooting in the open space between the race lanes, telling us, "if we let all the photographers in here, there will be CHAOS!".

You decide....

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/320th sec., f2.8)

Racewalkers come from all walks of life, including math teacher Theron Kissinger, a 37-year-old high school math teacher who competes while sucking on a lollipop and doing math problems in his head. Still, if you were on your daily run, he'd be sucking his lollipop as he blew by you racewalking.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/500th sec., f5.0)

Not many spectators showed up for the racewalk, but this well-behaved dog had a front row seat.

(Nikon D3, VR 14-24mm/f2.8 lens at 17mm, ISO 400, 1/640th sec., f7.1)

I actually was interested in the race because a high-school classmate of mine, Allen James, two-time Olympian ('92 and '96) was competing in the trials again at age 44.

Despite having only trained for six weeks or so, James finished sixth and while he didn't earn a medal or a trip to Beijing, he did have massive blisters on his feet for the final five kilometers.

(Nikon D3, VR 14-24mm/f2.8 lens at 24mm, ISO 400, 1/640th sec., f4.0)

See you at the 2012 trials, Allen?

He laughed and rubbed his aching feet.

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