'Is competitive racewalking like most sports? You're done by the time you hit 35?" "It's endurance athletics," Curt Clausen says. "If you're willing to put in the time and put in the training, you can go to your upper 30s, early 40s. There have been top-level marathoners in their early 40s and top-level walkers in the same boat. For a long time, the world record in marathon was held by a 38-year-old. The key is staying injury free, and that's hard as athletes get older."
Clausen started racewalking in the seventh grade. Since then he's been to the Olympics three times, won the U.S. 50 km six times, the U.S. 20 km five times, and placed third in the 1999 World Championships. He's been training at the ARCO Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista since 1997. I acquired his cellular phone number from a reliable source: his mother. He answered on the third ring.
I ask, "Is there a country where racewalking is a big deal?"
"Mexico is one of the biggest," Clausen says. "Mexico hosted the Olympic Games in '68, and racewalking was one of the events they got a medal in. Walking has been huge there ever since. Ecuador has huge crowds for a walk. Jefferson Perez won a gold medal for Ecuador -- the only Olympic medal ever won by an Ecuadorian. Jefferson has his own postage stamp, he's been on Ecuadorian currency; the guy is a national hero. In Europe, there are hotbeds for walking: the Italians, the Spaniards, the Russians. Polish people love it. Robert Korzeniowski won gold in '96; he won both distances for men in 2000, and he won gold in 2004. He's a Polish national hero."
Not in the USA. It's hard to move Americans off football and baseball; they barely tolerate soccer. "Is there a racewalking circuit in the United States?"
"We have a national championship circuit. This past weekend racewalkers were in Niagara Falls for our national 10 km. We have national championships in the 5 km, 10 km, and 15 km. Our Olympic distance is 20 km, and we also host 30, 40, and 50 km. There are events throughout the United States. If you're on the world-class level there's also a world tour, a Grand Prix series. Traditionally, racewalking events in Mexico kick off the season. You'll go to Italy, Germany, Spain..."
"You've done that?"
Had to have been great fun. "Are you still competing?"
Clausen says, "Semi-retired. Right now I'm in Madison, Wisconsin, going to law school; just finished my first year. I came straight here from Athens [2004 Olympic Games site]. I'm hoping to get back to San Diego for work. As for racewalking, I'm dabbling. I qualified for the world championships in Helsinki, Finland, next February. I won the [U.S. 30 km and 50 km] nationals, but I'm definitely not training at a world-class level. In order to compete on the world-class level you have to be a full-on, full-time athlete."
"Sounds like you haven't decided whether to retire or not."
"I'm getting older -- I'm 37 -- my career is on the downswing. I decided to get law school behind me. I came out to Chula Vista in '97, did the full-time-athlete thing through Athens. The post-Olympic year is a down year anyway, so I figured this was a good time to start on my law degree. Two thousand seven will be my third year of law school, and that's when you start qualifying for the Olympics. I hear law school gets easier after the first year. We'll see what happens."
"How about coaching?"
"I'm going to stay involved in the sport. There's not a lot of money in racewalk coaching... not a lot of jobs out there, although I do have friends who eke out a living in racewalking, it can be done. I hope to take my law degree and channel it into sports, most likely Olympic-level sports and at the administrative level within racewalking."
I'll lay 20 bucks he makes it. "Let's say you're talking to a San Diego teenager. He's enthusiastic; he wants to start racewalking. What would you tell him?"
"The best thing is to find a Junior Olympic Club through USA Track and Field."
"In San Diego?"
"Yeah, there are plenty. There are some books on walking. The Internet is a great place for advice: there's a website called racewalk.com, which has a bunch of links and overview."
"How about a middle-aged guy in El Cajon who wants to pick up the sport?"
Clausen e-mails me his answer. "There are a couple walking groups in San Diego that should help a beginner learn the basics. Walk This Way has a website: eteamz.active.com/WalkThisWay/. Sloan Zsiros is the coach and trains at Mission Bay Park weekly (Sundays, I believe). Liz Salvato heads Walk2Win and her website is walk2win.com/."