Walking (Sport)

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European Cup for walkers 2015 (from right to left): Miguel López, Spain – Alexander Ivanov, Russia – Yohann Diniz, France

Walking is an Olympic athletic discipline in which, unlike running, there must be no loss of contact with the ground visible to the human eye. In addition, the striding (front) leg must be extended – i.e. not bent at the knee – when touching the ground (Rule 230 of the IWR – International Rules of Competition).[1] This results in the hip movement that is so characteristic for walkers.


Still unknown participants at a walker competition after the start – photograph by Jochen Mellin, no date

In 1682 a walking competition took place in London, which consisted of five hours of continuous walking.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, walking was a popular spectator sport in Britain. One of the most famous pedestrians was Captain Robert Barclay Allardice, known as The Celebrated Pedestrian of Stonehaven.[2] He set his greatest record between 1 June and 12 July 1809, when he managed to walk one English mile in each of 1000 consecutive hours. There were about 10,000 spectators at this event. Even though the sport of walking has lost its importance in the 20th century, walking still exists as an Olympic sport. Besides this, the Land’s End to John o’ Groats walk is still held as a traditional sporting event in England.

The 50 km walk became Olympic in 1932 and the 20 km walk in 1956. In 1992, women’s walking was also added to the Olympic programme.


Competitions are held on the road for men usually 20 km and 50 km. For women, the distance is usually twenty kilometres. They are usually run on 1 to 2.5 km circuits or turnaround courses. In addition, track races over various distances starting at 5 km are common. Distances are usually given in kilometres for road races and in metres for track races. Accordingly, 20 km denotes a road walking competition, while 20, 000 m denotes a track walking competition.

Course length at German Championships

Exemplary for the different distance lengths of the walking sport are the lengths of the competitions for German championships. The first distance over which a German championship title was awarded was road walking over 100 km, which was included in the championship programme from 1906 to 1912, but never took place on the same date and at the same venue as the other competitions. Winning times of more than eleven hours were common. From 1920, walking was instead held at the 50km distance until the present day. On this distance, the number of participants has been decreasing strongly in recent years, so that a team classification with the three best walkers of a team is no longer possible (last time in 2002).

As a shorter road distance, a competition over 20 km was initially added in 1933 and 1934. This in turn was replaced from 1942 to 1953 by a competition over 25 km, before one returned to the internationally usual 20 km from 1955 until today.

Apart from the street walking competitions, the championship programme also included, with major interruptions, a track walking competition from 1910 onwards. Initially, from 1910 to 1913, the distance walked was 3000 metres. In 1921 and 1922 5000 metres were walked, from 1938 to 1954 and then again from 2000 the 10,000 metres. A team classification exists only for the road walkers, it was introduced in 1927.

Championship competitions in women’s walking have existed in the DLV since 1980. From 1980 to 1986, a 5-km road race was held, and from 1987 to 1997 the distance was doubled to 10 km. In 1998, the distance was doubled to 20 km, which is still the international standard. Track walking over a distance of 5000 metres has existed since 1990, with 10,000 metres being walked in 1998 and 1999 before returning to 5000 metres. A team classification on the road was taken into account from the beginning, but there were always years in which no team classification came about due to a lack of participants.

In recent decades, the walking competitions on the road and track have been almost completely separated from the rest of the German Athletics Championships, as has always been the case with the long road distances, but this inevitably led to less interest from spectators and the media.

Warnings, red cards, staging area for time penalties and disqualifications

If the compliance with the above mentioned regulations “ground contact” and “knee extension” is endangered, the judges can inform the athletes once with a so-called “warning notice” by means of a yellow ladle with marking of the respective violation (serpentine line = loss of ground contact, angle = lack of extension).

In addition, the judges may issue a red card. The red card will not be shown to the athlete by the individual judge, but will be communicated to the head judge as a “request for disqualification”. For the information of the athletes (and spectators) the respective number and reason of the Red Cards will be displayed on a board. At international events, handheld computers must be used for communication to the Referee and to the disqualification request board.

Normally, after three red cards by different judges, the walker will be disqualified by the umpire (or one of his assistants). The disqualification is indicated by a red ladle, whereupon the walker must immediately stop the competition and leave the competition course. For competitions on the road, the walker must also remove his start numbers

Since the amendment of the International Rules of Competition to 2016, a stay zone for time penalties has been introduced in accordance with Rule 230.7 c). If the rules of this event provide for such a stay zone, it is mandatory in all walking competitions. However, it may also be used in other competitions after a decision has been made by the relevant Federation or the Organising Committee (Organiser).

When applying the stay zone, an athlete who has collected three red cards is instructed by the head judge or a person entrusted to him (i.e. possibly also one of his assistants) to go to the stay zone. There he must spend a penalty time, which was determined with the rule change to 2018 as follows:

  • Competitions up to 5 km: 30 seconds penalty time
  • Competitions up to 10 km: 1 minute penalty time
  • Competitions up to 20 km: 2 minutes penalty time
  • Competitions up to 30 km: 3 minutes penalty time
  • Competitions up to 40 km: 4 minutes penalty time
  • Competitions up to 50 km: 5 minutes penalty time

If at any time the athlete receives another Red Card from a Judge who has not yet issued him a Red Card, the athlete will be disqualified. He will also be disqualified by the Referee if, despite instructions, he refuses to go to the staging area for time penalties or if he does not spend the specified penalty time in the staging area.[3]

In international competitions, the head judge also has the right to disqualify a walker in the last 100 meters before the finish, regardless of the number of red cards present (quasi arbitrarily). However, he may only do this if the athlete’s walking style is obviously against the rules, e.g. if the walker is running or jogging and no longer walking. In such a case the walker is allowed to finish the competition, he will then be informed of his disqualification immediately after the finish.

Because of the three red cards, which are necessary for a disqualification, at least three judges have to be present, if the stay zone for time penalties is used, where the fourth red card leads to a disqualification, even at least four judges have to be present. In Germany (events up to German Championships) no two judges may belong to the same club, i.e. all officiating judges must come from different clubs. At Area or World Championships or events organized by an Area or World Federation, no two judges may belong to the same nation.

Observance of the walking rules

The competition rules for walking clearly prescribe, in addition to knee extension at each step, as explained above, that at no time may there be a loss of simultaneous contact of both feet with the ground that is perceptible to the human eye.[1]

Adherence to these rules is monitored by judges, who issue warnings in the event of violations and indicate this to the athlete on appropriate boards. However, it is extremely difficult to perceive violations with the naked eye, which is especially true for the problem of constant contact with the ground. In slow-motion footage – for example, from the 2015 World Championships[4][5] – it becomes clear that, similar to running, athletes are constantly losing contact with the ground without any consequence. This development started mainly in the 1980s. Not for nothing were there leaps and bounds in improvements in world bests. The rates of increase in world records are overall significantly higher than in other disciplines.

It is not easy to find a way out of this problem, but the topic cannot be ignored without further considerations. It is a question of borderline value and by setting human perception as a criterion, a great deal of subjectivity comes into the assessment of rule compliance by the competition judges. Controversial decisions in favour or to the disadvantage of walkers, the feeling of unfair disadvantage are consequences that often occur and remain unresolved.

See also

  • 10 km walk
  • 20 km walk
  • 50 km walk
  • Track and Field World Records
  • Walking

Individual references

  1. a b IAAF International Rules of Competition (IWR) 2016/2017, page 180 (PDF), retrieved 29 October 2018
  2. Picture of Captain Barcley in the context of his walking record(Memento of the Originals september 30, 2007 on the Internet Archive) Info:The archive linkwas automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check original and archive link according to instructions and then remove this note.@1@2Template:Webachiv/IABot/
  3. German Athletics Association:Rule Change IWR 2018.November 21, 2017, retrieved April 2, 2018.
  4. IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 – Day 2 Highlights, video excerpt: range 9:53 min to 9:57 min on, live broadcast from 23 August 2015, retrieved 29 October 2018
  5. Race Walking or Race Jogging, 20km ‘Walk’ IAAF Champs, Beijing, Aug, 2015, video on, published 30 August 2015, retrieved 29 October 2018

Web links

Commons: Walking– Collection of images, videos and audio files