The IAAF has taken big steps towards equality with the introduction of female race walkers in the “Open 50km” event at the World Team Championships
Jane Saville

7 May 2016 - 9:14 AM  UPDATED 7 May 2016 - 9:14 AM

Who would want to walk 50km?

I am hoping lots of women now that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) amended its rules last year to include the women’s 50km Race Walk as a recognised World Record event.

It also recently announced that female race walkers could compete in the “Open 50km”  (previously know as Men’s 50km) at this weekends IAAF World Team Championships in Rome!

The IAAF is taking the first steps (yes an appropriate pun!) to equality on the international stage.  The men have two race walking events (20km and 50km) at World Champs and Olympics.  

Women’s race walking was only included in the 1992 Olympics as a 10km (since 1987 at Worlds) and changed to a 20km event in Sydney.  It has certainly been a slow journey to this point in 2016.

However, how long will it be until there is an outright event for women?  Without the event on the programme at the highest level I don’t believe any of the best female race walkers will prepare seriously for the 50km.  

We need to phase it into the programme at the World Championships, starting at Area National Championships as soon as possible and then of course the Olympic Games.

The 50km event is an amazing race especially at the highest level, never knowing until the finish line if the athletes will hold on, or should I say survive!  

It’s a race of tactics, endurance and technique.  We have to ensure exciting races with quality fields and it will take time to develop women in the 50km.  Nobody wants to see a small field of walkers racing for over 5 hours!  That’s why we need to promote and develop the 50km from grass roots to international level to ensure a successful introduction.  

I remember whilst preparing for the Olympics in 1996 being told the women’s event was likely to be changed to 20km at the next Games. I stated outright that I would retire if this happened!

I didn’t retire and nearly won the inaugural 20km event at our very special Olympic Games in Sydney.  In time I grew to relish the longer distance, but it took a period for the women to adapt to this new, challenging distance!

Would I have raced a 50km if offered? YES, I would have taken up the challenge, but only if it had been for a major international competition.   I wanted to medal at the Worlds or Olympics and wouldn’t have wanted to prepare for the 50km had there not been that “carrot” of an international medal dangling!

When I was racing I remember a couple of male race walkers commenting how they wanted to do a 50km one day in their career as it maybe the closest thing to child birth.  

As I consider those comments now, post career and after having 3 kids, I think it best never to compare any sport to child birth! Sport is just that, sport, and you can always ease up when it hurts too much.  

Although the elements can certainly play more havoc with distance events like the 50km as I witnessed at a few races in searing heat athletes collapsing, delirious with exhaustion and dehydration.

But will we see many women compete in Rome this weekend?  I doubt it.  The 1 month notice is too short for athletes to prepare properly for a 50km event, although most would have done enough training to finish I assume, but I doubt would they race it well.  

One female athlete definitely racing the 50km will be Erin Taylor-Talcott who has been selected for the USA team.  She has been the driving force behind the push, fighting all the way through the courts for opportunities to race 50km.  

In reality the “Open 50km” event at #Rome2016 is only advantageous to women from weaker race walking countries because there is a limit of 5 athletes that can compete in the team! For example if you’re from China or European countries you have no chance of competing because they have such incredible depth in the men’s event.  

It’s a start and I have to commend the IAAF in taking the decision to allow women to compete in Rome, albeit at short notice.  I feel that the new leadership from Seb Coe has recognised that they needed to do something and this was the best option within the time frame.   

I will be fighting for a women’s 50km Race Walk event on a major international programme soon.  Whilst they’re at it, the IAAF may want to look at creating a Women’s Decathlon and Women’s 110m Hurdles!

IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships 7-8 May 2016

Disclosure: Jane Saville is a member of the IAAF Race Walking Committee