The universality of race walking (© Getty Images)
Think of most event groups in athletics, and for each there will be two or three dominant nations that instantly come to mind.
Sprints: USA and Jamaica. Distance running: Kenya and Ethiopia. Javelin: Germany and Finland. And so on…
And while this is also true of race walking to some degree – with countries such as China, Spain and now Japan featuring highly on the world lists – it remains one of the most universal disciplines in the sport.
In race walking events, smaller nations such as Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico routinely out-perform some of the track and field superpowers. And new talents from countries without much of a race walking tradition are emerging all the time. Last year, for example, Kenya struck gold in the men’s 10,000m race walk at the World Athletics U20 Championships Nairobi 21, thanks to Heristone Wanyonyi. Behind him, Amit Khatri of India took the silver medal. And just a few years ago, Ethiopia won their first global race walking medal when Yehualeye Beletew took world U20 bronze in Bydgoszcz in 2016.
And just like Japan’s age-group stars from the past decade have now become contenders on the senior stage, these new teenage talents could shape the race walking landscape in the years to come, making it even more universal than it is now.
The statistics speak for themselves:
Women's 20km race walk
- At the 2019 World Championships, 15 countries from all six continental areas featured among the top 20
- At the 2021 Olympic Games, 15 countries from five areas featured in the top 20 (and five different areas were represented in the top six places)
- Ten countries and five areas are represented in the top 12 world ranked athletes. 34 countries feature in the top 100 ranked athletes.
- In World Championships history, 13 different nations have won medals in the women’s 20km race walk.
Men's 20km race walk
- At the 2019 World Championships, athletes from 16 different countries and five different areas placed in the top 20
- At the 2021 Olympic Games, 14 countries and all six continental areas were represented in the top 20
- Fifteen countries and all six areas appear in the top 25 world ranked athletes
- In World Championships history, 16 different nations have won medals in the men’s 20km race walk
Women's 50km/35km race walk
- At the 2019 World Championships, athletes from 11 different countries and four areas placed in the top 17
- Eight countries from three areas in top 15 world ranked athletes
Men's 50km/35km race walk
- At the 2019 World Championships, athletes from 17 countries and four areas placed in the top 20
- At the 2021 Olympic Games, 16 countries from five continental areas featured among the top 20
- In the top 50 world-ranked athletes, 22 countries from five areas are represented
- In World Championships history, 19 nations have won medals in the men’s 50km race walk
The universality of the event is of course reflected in the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships. At the last edition in 2018, there were 12 medal opportunities (combining team and individual events). Eleven different countries made it on to the medals table, and five different areas were represented in the top seven nations on the medals table.
In the history of the World Race Walking Team Championships, 28 different countries have won medals.
Aside from being an event that appeals to a wide spread of countries, race walking also attracts athletes of all ages.
At the 2019 World Championships, for example, several teenagers competed in the women’s 20km race walk. Meanwhile, Portugal’s Joao Vieira, aged 43 at the time, earned silver in the men's 50km and Jesus Angel Garcia, competing just three weeks before turning 50, placed eighth.
With 50 days to go until the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22, the Omani capital is preparing to welcome athletes of all nationalities and ages to what looks set to be one of the most diverse sporting events of the year.