The D.C. Olympic Team is back.
Two years ago, for the winter games in Turin, local voting-rights activists acted on a plan put forth by various folks over the years (among them Sam Smith, John Capozzi, and LL) and tried to pull together a curling team.
This year, says team organizer Mike Panetta, it’s going to be racewalking.
Panetta, who also serves as the District’s elected shadow representative, explains the rationale behind the team thusly: “Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Samoa, and Puerto Rico—-all of those territories can field their own Olympic teams, so if we’re going to be the red-headed stepchild of American democracy like those places, we should at least get our own Olympic team, too.” Doing so, he says, also takes advantage of all that Olympic media hype to bring attention to voting rights.
Though a mere three months from the Beijing games’ opening, the DCOC’s efforts are just getting underway. “It’s the sort of thing where the timing is critical. If you do it too far out from the Olympics, you don’t get the attention,” Panetta says. The team’s Web page has been updated, though, and a Facebook group is forthcoming.
So why racewalking? Panetta cites logistical concerns: “You need something that doesn’t require a specific location or equipment or any resources, so that’s why speedwalking is perfect.” Not heeding such considerations last time, he says, made assembling a curling team difficult. And, no, they never made it to Turin.
Also, Panetta says, walking is “a very Washingtonian activity. People are in training 24-7.”
Panetta & Co. will have their work cut out for them. The novice racewalker shouldn’t expect to be able to lace up his or her Rockports and hope to be competing at international level in no time. For one thing, Olympic racewalks aren’t short—-the short event is 20 kilometers (12.4 miles); the long event is a whopping 50 kilometers (31 miles).
And, says Vince Peters, chair of the national racewalking committee and a racewalker himself, the training is no joke. “It’s somewhat similar to training for the marathon; it takes that kind of dedication.” In fact, since your moving somewhat slower than a marathoner, he says, you actually train for more hours to cover similar mileage. (Not that much slower, though: top-level 20K racewalkers can average seven minute miles.)
Before embarking on high-mileage training, Peters says, it’s important to master the technique, based on the sports two cardinal rules: (1) one foot must be on the ground at all times and (2) the advancing foot must straighten at the knee. Finding local help with that might be difficult; Peters that while the D.C. area used to be a racewalking hotbed as recently as 10 years ago, no top-level racewalkers currently live in the metro area.
Panetta says he’s not trying to disparage the sport by corralling a bunch of tyros, and Peters says he’s happy to have all comers. “I’m not offended at all,” he says. “There may be a pearl in there, you never know.
And, as of yet, there’s no plans to have what Panetta describes as “a walking club with a democracy problem” go to that other country with a democracy problem. “I would love to have a contingent from D.C. go [to Beijing],” he says. “So if someone wants to write a check….”