Heel and Toe: Roland Hardy an Olympic Story

As our VRWC financial year comes to a close, I can report another action packed year of newsletters, with 51 in total. Alas, I finally missed an issue in early August as I was lost in the wilds of Peru, so my run of some 8 years of weekly newsletters came to a halt. Overall, the number of pages produced this year was about 15% bigger than in any previous year and I think I averaged around 20 pages per issue. I must start this issue by acknowledging all those people who feed results to me regularly. On the Australian front, thanks to Sarah Brennan, Kerrie Peart and Paul Rance (VIC), Colin Hainsworth (SA), Robin Whyte (ACT) and Terry Jones (WA). Internationally, thanks to Emmanuel Tardi (FRA), Mark Wall and Ron Wallwork (GBR) and the many others who let me know the latest news. And apologies if I missed anyone. The old brain cells sometimes get a bit overworked! I am also indebted to the writers behind http://www.marciadalmondo.com/ and http://omarchador.blogspot.com.au/ for the many results and race reports that they regularly produce. In our own way, we all work to ensure that you, the reader, have the latest racewalking news in a timely manner.

That said, here we go again with this week’s issue!

24 year old VRWC walker Regan Lamble has gone on to even greater deeds after her 9th place in the women’s 20km walk at Rio. This week she has been racing in China in the 4 day Around Lake Taihu Walk Classic, and sits in second place overall after 2 days, only 1 second behind the Chinese leader. On Sunday, she finished second overall in the initial 20km leg and then on Monday she finished 4th in the second leg, contested over 10km. Both races were held in very hot and humid conditions and she showed that she was up to the task, taking some big scalps along the way. She is therefore my Walker of the Week this time around.

Both she and Dane Bird-Smith sit in second place overall at the half way mark. With further races today and tomorrow, can they maintain their high placings. I excitedly wait for next week’s newsletter to reveal all.

When 90 year old double Olympian Roland Hardy died in England last week, we lost an unwitting but key player in one of the most unsavoury pieces of racewalking history which occurred when controversy over racewalking style came to a crisis in the 1950s and virtually ended international track walking.

It started with the the 1950 European Championships in Brussels. Britain had two Sheffield walkers, Roland Hardy and Laurence Allen, whose performances in Britain (Hardy had won the A.A.A. 2 and 7 miles in outstanding times and Allen was the RWA 10 and 20 miles champion) made them strong prospects for medals. This they confirmed by establishing such a lead in the European Championship 10,000m walk that it seemed they would not be caught. However, an old campaigner by the name of Fritz Schwab (the son of Switzerland’s Arthur Schwab, who won the 50km silver medal in 1936), raised what might charitably be termed a dashing finish and reached the line first in a time of 46:01. When it was announced that the result had been referred to the Jury of Appeal, justice seemed about to be done. Yet to general amazement, Schwab’s victory was confirmed, and Hardy and Allen were disqualified! The British team manager, Jack Crump, described it as ‘the most atrociously unfair occurrence which I have ever known in more than twenty years of first-class athletics’. In the protracted debate that followed, it was argued that the human eye was incapable of telling whether an 8mph walker was ‘lifting’. Films and photographs were studied minutely; even Bobby Bridge from pre-World War I days had his reputation dented by the evidence.

To their credit, Hardy and Allen bounced back and continued to walk superbly in England and, more importantly, continued to satisfy the tough English judges. Hardy reduced the A.A.A. 2 miles best to 13:27.8 and the 7 miles to 50:05.6 and both walkers were duly selected to compete in the 10,000m walk at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. In fact, they went into the race as co-favourites. Two heats were used to decide who of the 23 entrants would make the Olympic final. Bruno Junks of U.S.S.R, who was the fastest qualifier, won the first heat in 45:05, 5 seconds ahead of John Mikaelsson, the defending champion. His Swedish compatriot Verner Hardmo still held the World Record at 42:39.6 but had now retired. Coleman of GBR won the second heat in a slower 46:12. But Hardy and Allen again incurred the displeasure of the judges, with Hardy one of 3 walkers disqualified in the first heat and Allen one of two walkers disqualified in the second heat.

The final saw the 38 year old Mikaelsson win by over 100 yards in a new Olympic record time of 45:02.8 in impeccably fair style. But the final is better remembered for the tussle to decide the minor medals. Schwab, chasing second place, produced another of his fleet-footed finishes, travelling at such speed that the Chief Judge had to run hard beside him to observe his style. Junk manfully met the challenge, and the pair sprinted to a photo-finish which palpably showed both men running. Yet there was no disqualification. (As an aside, Junk’s gold medal was the first ever Russian Olympic walking medal and marked the start of the Eastern European domination which has continued to the present day.)

The judges, who had disqualified seven men in the heats and final, were made to look foolish. Jack Crump, writing in the Official British Olympic Association Report for the 1952 Olympic Games, was scathing.

Read more in the Heel and Toe issue below.


Photo Credit – Getty Images

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