This has nothing to do with physics, but - Racewalking. Here are the rules: Walk so that one foot
is always on the ground and keep your front leg straight.
In short, do a funny walk, really fast. There's also something funny about the rules, though
- the judges who determine whether or not a competitor is indeed "walking", are only
allowed to stand stationary at the side of the course and judge by EYE whether the competitors
APPEAR to be walking. You'd think that for a sport whose definition is so technical,
they'd appeal to all possible technology to enforce the rules.
So is race walking stuck in the dark ages? I mean, there are other sports that don't
allow referees to view replays, but when you think about the electronics of fencing, the
finish-line cameras of track and field, the touchpads of swimming, and the 3D ball tracking
and path-reconstruction of tennis… race walking judges, on the other hand, seem quite
pedestrian. They're even forbidden to watch from ground level or use such modern technology
as binoculars or a mirror.
So what's up with all this perambulatory red tape?
If you look carefully at slowmo footage or basically any photograph of racewalkers themselves,
you'll realize that pretty much everyone leaves the ground… Not just occasionally because
of a push or stumble, which is allowed - but on almost every stride. In fact, it is WELL
RECOGNIZED by the racewalking community that most racewalkers regularly leave the ground
and may even be in the air up to 10% of the time… so EVERYONE is breaking the rules.
Now, there are plenty of arbitrary rules in sport… but the fact that most athletes break
the traditional DEFINING rule for this sport, is, to say the least… surprising.
And this isn't like the suspicion that almost all professional cyclists are doping, because
unlike our constant struggle to test and catch dopers, we are well within the technological
means to catch "ungrounded" racewalkers. It seems clear that the technophobia in racewalking
stems from the fact that if racewalkers started using high speed cameras, they might no longer
have a sport.
And that brings into question the very essence of sport - because all games, really, are
just an arbitrary set of rules and limitations that we submit to for the purpose of having
fun and challenging ourselves. I mean, there's a reason that track and field forbids bicycles,
cycling forbids motorcycles, and motorcycle racing forbids rockets…
Maybe those reasons are just as arbitrary as racewalking's ban on technology… because
the goal isn't to keep your feet on the ground - it's to see who's fastest doing a funny
walk, just like triple jump is to see who can go the farthest doing a funny jump, hurdles
are to see who can run the fastest with plastic barriers in the way, and tennis is to see
who can hit a ball over a net the best, but only within certain carefully drawn lines
and with a racquet and not a paddle or hands or feet. Sport, ultimately, is not about the
sport, but about the players and their struggles. It's about how far we're able to push the
boundaries of human ability… within the boundaries set by the rules.
So is racewalking a sport in denial, desperately holding on to its past and blatantly refusing
to accept technological advances that in principle improve the judging of the sport, but in reality
shake its very foundations? I don't know… but are racewalkers athletes? Most certainly.