In 1908, Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin spoke the phrase that would become the Olympic
creed: "The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight.
The essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well."
This is the fight.
This is race walking.
Why are they walking like that?
This is an Olympic event where men and women walk 20 kilometers.
And men go as far as 50 kilometers — 31 miles!
And the best go at less than 7 minutes a mile.
It's hypnotic and — you know, with all that hip action — it's very dancey.
They look like they're rushing to the bathroom.
Tell me, do we know why they walk like that?
Phil, we're in luck — we do know why they're walking like that.
People study this.
There are actually dozens of papers about race walking.
I talked to one researcher who wrote his PhD thesis on the biomechanics of the race walk.
He has studies with names like "Kinematic characteristics of elite men's 50 km race
This is some serious science here.
OK, so they actually study why race walkers walk like that.
Yeah, they don't just study it — they track it.
This little Tron like thing that is on the screen with the race walker, this is an actual
top race walker who they've studied how she walks.
Yeah, this is a top race walker.
They are tracking her every articulation of the joint, they're seeing what makes her go
so fast while walking.
There's a good reason why they walk like that.
They're pushing their bodies to the extreme.
They have to conform to one very important number: 230.2.
What is 230.2?
You don't know 230.2?
No, what is 230-2?
It is the rule of race walking.
Researcher Brian Hanley explains.
"There's one rule, it's rule 230.2."
Judges use rules to make sure people are walking, not running.
There's a big difference.
"So one part states that you can't have any visible loss of contact with the ground."
So if one foot is kind of in the air, like this, then another has to be on the ground?
Or at least to the human eye?
Yeah, walkers can trick the judges for about 40 milliseconds.
So you know when you're running, there's this point where you have no feet on the ground,
it's kind of crazy if you watch that in slow motion of how people run — we're kind of
jumping from one foot to the other.
Judges are looking out for this.
They call it "flight time."
And it's illegal.
And judges do boot people out.
So it's kinda like traveling in basketball — sometimes these guys'll take an extra
step, and if the ref doesn't catch it or call it, it just means they're a good player, it
means they know what they're doing.
You figured it out.
It's all about that.
If the judges can't see, flight time flies.
"And the other rule is that the knee must be straightened from when you make first contact
with the ground until it passes under your body."
OK, so it looks like they almost kind of lock their knee.
"That's what gives it its sort of unusual look."
The speed of your walk is your stride length times your stride frequency.
So you can take long steps or fast steps, ideally you're gonna do both.
But race walkers have a limited stride length.
They can't jump.
They can't bend their knee.
They can't run.
So they have to figure ways to step faster.
They rotate their pelvis like this.
"So that helps them get longer steps."
And they also drop their hips down lower.
"It will keep your center of mass low.
So you don't end up with a bouncing motion.
You kind of end up with a smooth motion."
It does look really smooth, if you just look at their upper body.
It's just a straight line, there is no bouncing.
They walk in a very straight line.
"Race walkers put their feet in a straight line.
A good analogy is like a tightrope — it helps them do that rotation of the pelvis,
it makes their steps longer."
So basically, these walkers figured out how to fit the rules and make walking more efficient,
but more efficient ends up looking kind of weird.
That looks weird to you, but this is strategy.
The best athletes look for an edge.
Bicyclists drift to reduce wind resistance, wrestlers dehydrate to lower their weight
class, and race walkers...
OK, I got it.
I have one more question.
OK, so is this actually fun to watch?
Yeah, it actually is.
Because it's so cutthroat and exhausting.
Plus, there's this: "But it's really interesting as well, because
you never know who's going to win, because they can always get disqualified.
So it makes it more exciting than running is.
You can see the real, sort of, human struggle in it."
And we can learn things from this struggle.
"Race walkers are walking differently, because they've got these rules, it forces them to
walk a different way, and that can teach us more about normal people walking."
We're all walking based on rules.
Rules our body sets.
The way we're built.
Like the bounce in this guy's step, or how this woman swings her arm.
That's the excitement of sports.
You're giving people these absurd, sometimes really absurd, rules, these confines to work
And we know what the rules are.
The drama is how people deal with them.
Getting disqualified from an elite race walking race would be a brutal blow, so they try to
keep it fair.
Most rules require that three different judges each give you a red card before you can be
disqualified from a race.