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Napa-Sonoma Half Marathon, July 20, 2014
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Friday, August 20, 2004

Track & Field beings with men's 20km walk

August 20--Track and field begins with 20km walk

By 9am, the temperature in the Olympic Stadium was already reaching into the low 80s and the 20km walk race had just started. An hour and a half later, the roads outside the stadium were baking and the full track and field schedule had heated up the track as well.

My three U.S. teammates, John Nunn, Kevin Eastler and Tim Seaman all toed the line with the other top 20km walkers in the world. All three of them ended up finishing very well, especially considering the conditions. John started out much more aggressively and gave himself a great shot at a top 15 finish, but he struggled in the last 5km. Tim and Kevin's conservative paid dividends as they passed many walkers in the final 5km. The only thing that didn't make sense to me was why Kevin didn't use his superior strength to distance himself from the speedier Tim in the middle of the race and avoid getting out-kicked by three seconds at the end.

In the lead pack it was last year's World Championships gold and silver medalists, Jefferson Perez from Ecuador and Francisco Fernandez from Spain, establishing a solid breakaway with Italian Ivano Brugnetti and Australian Nathan Deakes. The four walkers were constantly at the front of the lead pack with Brugnetti and Fernandez doing most of the pace setting. By 10km the field had been splintered into a line of walkers straggling after the Italian, Spanish and Australian trio. World record holder and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Perez was not having his day. In a remarkable recovery, though, Perez closed a twelve-second gap and rejoined the lead group by 15km. The recovery was short-lived when Brugnetti stepped up the tempo again only Deakes and Fernandez were able to respond. Deakes made a bid for the lead through the water station with just under 3km to go but was quickly swallowed up by the fast closing Brugnetti and Fernandez. The Italian star was only able to shed Fernandez in the last kilometer as the two walkers sprinted up the stadium access road. Deakes hung on for the bronze medal and Perez rounded out the top four spots. For full results, go to the IAAF website, though I doubt they'll have the best video shot of the day: Fernandez throwing up, repeatedly, after the finish. Racewalking is so tough! I love it!

It was a bit odd watching the race on TV. First, how often do you get to see a complete racewalking event televised on international TV? It was awesome. No commercial breaks and since the race came down to the last kilometer, I didn't have to get upset when they cut away to a meaningless sprint preliminary like they often do in the U.S. Second, the only broadcast station I could remotely understand was TVE direct from Spain (it was that, Greek, Italian or German). The race announcers were understandably excited by the performance of their Spanish star Francisco Fernandez, so the enthusiasm of the broadcast was infectious. Finally, I'm used to being in the race or at least at the race as a course-side spectator. When my friend Jefferson started to struggle, there was no way he could hear me yelling 'Si se puede! Vamos! Vamos!' at the TV. All of my neighbors here at the resort probably thought I was crazy, but like any sports nut I felt that if I yelled loud enough at the TV, I just might be able to influence the outcome of the race.

Now that I have seen one of the races on the walks course, I have a better idea of how to approach my own event. I've known all along that the heat and humidity were going to be a factor, but it was impressive that most people avoided a DQ or DNF. There were 48 walkers who started the 20km and seven of them didn't make it to the finish line. Fatigue and a loss of concentration can dramatically effect the legality of a walker's technique, and dehydration due to extreme heat and humidity can wreak havoc on a person's body, especially in the longer 50km race. It will definitely be an interesting race. I think there will be two drastically different strategies employed during the 50km. Some walkers will opt to start as quickly as possible to take advantage of the relatively cool temperatures at the 7am start time. They will hope to build a significant enough time cushion in order to fight off those walkers who start more conservatively. The less aggressive walker will rely on a steadier pace and a late rally to carry him past the majority of the field that wilts in the midmorning heat. Because my less-than-ideal fitness won't allow a fast start, I will be one those walkers who hopes to make up ground in the second half of the race.

After watching the 20km in the morning, I got out for an easy morning walk. Then I was able to take advantage of a full day of Olympics coverage by learning about team handball (great game, very wild and full of contact), badminton (insanely fast and incredibly talented athletes), and rowing (almost as tough as walking, but it doesn't last nearly as long as it should). In the evening, Curt and I knocked out our last tough speed workout: 5 x 2km repeats. They went well and I was able to walk as fast as I have in weeks, so that was good. Tonight the knee is a bit unhappy with me, though, so I'll have to be more careful. Before bedtime I was able to catch the men's 10,000mt race. Unbelievable. If you didn't get a chance to see it, find a copy somewhere. It was so awesome. The three Ethiopians, led by Haile Gebresselasie, were almost untouchable. With 3km to go, though, multiple-time world record holder Gebresselasie started to falter (he's been suffering an achilles tendon injury this season). His two Ethiopian teammates slowed the pace until he was able to rejoin the lead pack. When it became evident that he wasn't going to be able to manage a top three finish, the fitter Ethiopians, led by Bikele, jetted to the front again and destroyed the remaining challengers. With 400 meters to go, Bikele began his sprint finish blazing the last lap in 53 seconds! Most elite distance runners are happy to run a 53 second 400mt fresh, and he did it after running 24 laps. Unbelievable. More track and field coverage tomorrow. I can't wait!

Oh, I also got an email from one of my friends at Walk About Magazine and she sent me the link to the latest free on-line issue. It has the first installment of my Olympic journal, and it's a great magazine, too, so check it out at: www.walkaboutmag.com

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