Admittedly, covering this year’s 50km USATF Nationals wasn’t part of my plan. My wife Jennifer and I were down at Cape Canaveral photographing her for the 150th time in her wedding dress as part of our One Dress, One Woman, One World project. Why Cape Canaveral you ask? We were fortunate enough to experience weightlessness with the Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G®) A thrill few people ever experience, they have flown over 500 commercial flights with the G-FORCE ONE® plane, their modified Boeing 727, have flown more than 12,000 people from around the world. You can check out more of the photographs like the one shown here and the rest of our project at www.onedressonewoman.com.
Since Cape Canaveral was only two and a half hours north from the 50km, I woke up at 4 AM and did my best impersonation of Sienfeld’s George Castanza; I turned the trip into a double dip for my photography and covered both events. However, coming off the 30,000 foot high of weightlessness I was brought back to earth with the harsh reality of the poor shape of American race walking. The day was uncharacteristically hot and the race got off late. Both are toxic to fast 50km results. Sadly as I looked around the start, there were more elite walkers from my generation and before (Ray Sharp, Ian Whatley, Steve Pesinofsky, Dan Pierce, Ron Daniels, Maryanne Daniels) than current American elite athletes capable of making an A or B standard (John Nunn and Patrick Stroupe). Of course, the blame doesn’t go to those that toed the line, but to the no shows and all of us for not generating a deeper field. Beyond the top two were Mike Mannozzi and Erin Taylor-Talcott and a long list of walkers whose best race walking days have passed. Even with the best expectations, it was inconceivable to believe we could field a complete squad for international competition. Hell, it would have to be a great day to field a team three people deep.
The gun went off and a mixed distance field of walkers set out conservatively. Not really prepared for the race, I didn’t know which of the international athletes were going the full distance and focused on taking photographs. Normally, after the race I would reconstruct the story for the lap sheets. However, when I ambled over there mid race I found complete chaos. I had to stop taking photos and help reconstruct people’s laps to at least ensure that their lap count was correct. Some of the lap counters were race walking virgins, having never recorded an event. While it’s easy to blast meet organizers, the real question is why more organizations aren’t bidding for the most important national championship outside the USATF outdoor championships. Our sport is dying like the slow death march that accompanied many of the competitors at the 50km. We get spurts of optimism, but the long haul needed for ultimate success dims our hopes. I wish I had answers and while I do what I can, I am not confident in our future.
Cloaked in the last bit of shade the brave walkers stepped out onto the 2K course for the first of 25 laps.
John Halloman (288) took off with the confidence of knowing he was only walking 20km.
John Nunn was the clear favorite amongst the Americans and he looked much improved from Russia. Fit and strong, early in the race it looked like he was poised to regain his previous Olympic form.
Patrick looked completely in control and was walking according to his plan of 5:05 per km. Confident and smooth, the veteran paced smartly in the early stages.
Candian Creighton Connolly taking a step ahead of the Americans.
Dropping the do rag early, Nunn set down to business.
Stroupe equally fell into line.
Ray Sharp, still going strong now in his 50's looked like the heat was getting to him early
Mike Mannozzi, walked strong early, less boistress than in the past has seemingly learned to save his energy for later in the race.
The story continues...