• Geoffrey Kipkorir Kirui wins the men's marathon athletics event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships London 2017

20 Kilometres Race Walk

How it works

Both men and women contest the shorter of the two international championship distances for race walking.

Race walking differs from running because one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times. Failure to do so is known as ‘lifting’.

The rules also state that the advancing leg must straighten from the point of contact with the ground and remain straight until the body passes over it. Three violations of the rules during a race lead to disqualification.

The race is held on a road course. At major championships, walks often start and finish in the main stadium but there is a trend in recent years to having races finish in places of historic or scenic interest.


Race walking dates from the 17th and 18th centuries. The first competitors were the footmen who would run and/or walk by the side of their masters’ coaches. The aristocracy of the day began to stake wagers as to which of their footmen would win a race – some of which lasted for six days! – and the sport became an increasingly popular professional activity during the 19th century, when it was known as ‘pedestrianism’.

Walking first appeared at the Olympics in 1904 with a half-mile race that was part of the 10-event ‘All-Around Championship’, an early forerunner of the Decathlon. Individual races, initially over shorter distances than are common today were introduced at the Intercalated Games of 1906 and, apart from the 1928 Amsterdam Games, have been a fixture at Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships ever since.

The 20km walk has been contested by men at the Olympic Games since 1956. Women first competed in race walking at the 1992 Olympic Games, initially over 10km. They stepped up to 20km in 2000.

Did you know

The first man under 90 minutes for the distance was the Soviet walker Leonid Spirin, who clocked 1:28:45.2 in Kiev on 13 June 1956. The first performance under 90 minutes on the road came just six weeks later when Josef Dolezal, from Czechoslovakia, clocked 1:29:59.8 in Prague.

Gold standard

Russia and China are currently the dominant nations in both the men’s and women’s 20km events. China’s Chen Ding made history at the London 2012 Olympic Games by not only setting an Olympic record of 1:18:59 by 13 seconds in the men’s event but also by becoming the youngest ever walks gold medallist, just one day short of his 20th birthday. The two countries took the top six places in the women’s race in London.