The 20,000-meter racewalk (meaning a 50-lap track race) hadn’t been held at Nationals since the last stop at Drake 5 years ago. And that edition of the event had to endure a 4-plus-hour rain delay that left the competitors flustered and flummoxed. The ensuing meets saw the event held as a 20-kilometer event on adjacent roadways. Track’s purists insist that track races always be labeled with meters while road events be properly described in kilometers… err… Ks.
Road or track, it didn’t really matter to 26-year-old Nick Christie. He led this one from start to finish, every single centimeter, clocking a PR 1:24:53.4. After the great Drake deluge of ’13, and often intense Iowa heat, the contestants came prepared to deal with anything the weather gods might deliver. But instead of adversity, they got to race in near-perfect, coolish and slightly drizzly conditions.
Then again, Drake Stadium was virtually empty by their 8:40 p.m. start time. Asked to estimate the semblance of a crowd, “The number I got was 43,” said Martin Smith, racewalker and fan from Cedar Rapids. The concession stands were closed and the public restrooms were closed by then, too. The athletes and their families and devotees in the stands soldiered on regardless.
Christie—reeling off his laps in virtual 1:43/1:44ish precision, broke clear from the starting gun and was never challenged. Fellow Southern Californian Emmanuel Corvera, who’d scored an upset win in this event last year, was eventually lapped but held on for 2nd in 1:27:47.2. A solid 3rd throughout was Cornerstone alum John Cody Risch, half a lap back of Corvera, in 1:28:29.5. Christie’s clocking was more than a PR: it was the best at Nationals (track or road) since Trevor Barron’s 1:23.00.1 in ’12. Beyond that, it also “justified”—or simply wrapped up—his own version of a national Triple Crown: indoor 3000, road 50K, now track 20,000. “It was about a 2:00 PB for me and I’m really just getting started,” said Christie, once he caught his breath. “I’m going up to the NACAC 20K race in Toronto in August and I really think I can compete with these guys.”
He’s obviously over the virus that hit him in China—walking the IAAF Team Championship in May—which forced him out of the 50 after 32K. “I was spitting blood and had a lot of problems. So we decided to stop right there and not destroy my season,” he said. “I’m fine now; I’m really focused. I’m pretty optimistic. Although it was first National win at 20, this one represented his 11th national title at all distances.
“Nick was great today, he deserves all the credit he can get,” said Corvera, the dethroned champion. “There was never any doubt about him being the best out there tonight.”
For 3rd-placer Risch, another of the several walking stars emerging from the NAIA ranks, the race represented the passing of a crossroad. “I was DQed in this race last year, I got my third red card in the last 200m, and that really hurt,” he said. “You can understand how down I was. Then I told myself, ‘I’ve been doing too much of this for too many years.’” Well, he made a few technical adjustments, ramped up all his training programs and keeps reminding himself, “I’ve got a future in this thing.”
USATF MEN’S 20K WALK RESULTS
(June 21; on track)
1. Nick Christie (unat) 1:24:53.4 (AL) PR (42:01.1/42:52.3);
2. Emmanuel Corvera (NYAC) 1:27:47.2 (45:09.1/42:38.1);
3. John Cody Risch (qE) 1:28:29.5;
4. Matt Forgues (unat) 1:31:50.4;
5. Alexander Bellavance (unat) 1:34:31.2;
6. Anthony Peters (StAmb) 1:36:32.6;
7. Anthony Gruttadauro (Shore) 1:40:50.4;
8. Mike Mannozzi (Shore) 1:46:02.4;
9. David Swarts (PegAC) 1:54:43.8;
… dnf—Pablo Gomez (ChicWalk). □