EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Pedestrian Opinion: Judge Doubts That Girls Could Have Walked Less Than 1/2 As Fast As Record Racewalker

Today at the Olympics is the men's 20 km racewalk. My wife and I always get a kick out of the sport of racewalking for a few reasons. First, how much respect should be given to a a racewalker? People always talk about the lack of respect given to the lonesome kicker on a football team. Well, aren't racewalkers even more the red headed stepchildren of the track world? Great, so you can walk really fast. But everyone else out here is running. This leads to the second point, which is the number of people disqualified during Olympic racewalks for, well, running.

The are 2 basic rules to racewalking:

The first dictates that the athlete's back toe cannot leave the ground until the heel of the front foot has touched. Violation of this rule is known as loss of contact. The second rule requires that the supporting leg must straighten from the point of contact with the ground and remain straightened until the body passes directly over it.

So, how is this enforced? Well, there are judges along the course

submitting "red cards" for violations results in disqualification. There is a scoreboard placed on the course so competitors can see their violation status. If the third violation is received, the chief judge removes the competitor from the course by showing a red paddle.

This is sort of the inverse of the Richard Bachman/Stephen King novella, "The Long Walk," in which walkers in a futuristic race were shot and killed if they fell below a certain speed three times. Presumably, by the time of "The Long Walk," society had developed technology to detect the speed of the walkers. But, as things stand now, the 2 rules of racewalking are enforced by the human eye, which creates controversy at today's high speeds.

Third, we have the origins of racewalking.

The sport -- currently a Summer Olympics game -- developed from a 19th century form of competitive walking called "Pedestrianism" which was popular on the British Isles. 

The sport was especially popular among the working class who would wager on competitors racing various distances, with some endurance races reaching lengths of 1,000 miles.

Okay, so the origins of your sport are from PedestrianismI? How, well, pedestrian. In high school I ran cross-country and track and always wanted to compete in the Steeplechase because I'm 6'4 and liked longer distances. Unfortunately, the Steeplechase wasn't run in my district (probably liability issues). But, you know what? The Steeplechase has a pretty cool origin story. When your origin story is Pedestrianism, your sport is not cool at all. Even the one case that I could find making reference to racewalking Pact v. Pact, 332 N.Y.S.2d 240 (N.Y.Fam.Ct. 1972), came up pretty lame.

In Pact, a mother requested termination of ar father's visitation rights because of his negative influence, deviousness and deliberate attempts to sabotage her planning for their children. As explained by the court,

Starting with King Solomon's famous decision in the first recorded custody case and down through the ages experienced jurists will unreservedly agree that child custody proceedings are the most trying, vexatious and complex of all legal proceedings. The instant matter is no exception.

One of the main questions addressed by the court was whether the father or someone acting on his behalf assisted the couple's children in absconding from their mother's house in search for refuge with their father. According to the court,

The facts as disclosed in the instant hearing are not too dissimilar to those presented to the court last year except for two abortive attempts by the children to abscond from their mother's custody in search for refuge with their father. In March, 1971 and again on January 12, 1972 Debra, now age 12, and her sister Allison, two and one half years her junior, were picked up by police officers at the very same location in Old Westbury, approximately ten miles distant from their home in Queens.  

The children were confidentially interviewed by the Court in chambers on consent of the parties and on the authority of Lincoln v. Lincoln, 24 N.Y.2d 270, 299 N.Y.S.2d 842, 247 N.E.2d 659 at which time they refused any suggestion from the court that perhaps their fleeing escapade was aided and abetted by their father or some other person acting on his behalf. They insisted that on January 12th they left their school in Queens at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and walked for two and one-half hours until they were spotted by police officers in Old Westbury. By no stretch of the imagination is this court convinced that two girls, 12 and 10 years of age respectively, loaded with school books and using umbrellas part of the time to shield them from the falling rain, hiked ten miles in the time claimed. A search of American track records discloses that the record for that distance in race walking is 1 hour, 13 minutes, 17.6 seconds held by Robert O. Laird of Walnut, California who accomplished the feat on May 16, 1964.

So, why do I regard this conclusion as lame? Ok, so the girls went less than half as fast as the fastest American racewalker? Sure, that sounds unlikely but nearly the slam dunk that the judge intended it to be. The girls traveled 10 miles in 2.5 hours. So, they claimed to be walking at a pace of 15 minutes a mile or 4 miles per hour. According to Livestrong, "[f]or most healthy individuals, walking at a 4-mph pace is a good way to maintain aerobic endurance, build muscle strength in the lower extremities and manage weight." In the aforementioned  "The Long Walk," 4 miles per hour was the minimum speed that walkers had to maintain.

These last 2 considerations get me to my second point, which is that I'm sure that anyone walking briskly are not following the rules of racewalking. And that's why the judge's comparison to racewalking makes no sense. Sure, the girls had backpacks. And sure, it was raining. But were their back toes not leaving the ground until the heel of their front feet had touched? And were they straightened their supporting legs? Doubtful. And what this means is that any comparison to racewalking was nonsensical.



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