While there might not be much
track going on in New York State, there is plenty of history to pore
through. In our time off, we are looking to revisit all of the State
Records for the Outdoor Season. Who these athletes were, where their
marks came from, and where are they now. We're
releasing "Snapshots Of A State Record," where you can learn what it
takes, to put your mark on history. Tune in!
We are now looking at the records in a few events that are not at the outdoor States meet but definitely need to be highlighted. We look here at the records for different distances in the race walk, an event done at States only during the indoor season. Enjoy!
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Race walking seems like it should be the simplest of events. Walk around a track many times until you reach a distance of 1500m, mile, 3K, 5K, or 10K, and then stop. Nothing complex about that.
In reality, there is no track event more wrapped in confusion and convolution. First, the odd twisting and swaying gait of a race walker does not look like anything any normal person would do even when she was out for a fast stroll. A minimum of four meet officials watch the competitors from different points of the track to make sure they are not doing anything sinful like bending their knees too much or letting both feet lose contact with the ground at the same time. You can never be sure that the top finisher in a race actually did win since she may have pushed the limits too much and been disqualified. I have spent a good deal of time waiting for an interview with the presumed winner of an RW as she nervously chewed her nails waiting for the officials' verdict on whether she walked a clean race.
Second, the race walk is mainly only done by NY girls (okay, yeah, there is that Beavercreek, Ohio girl Taylor Ewert who can strut pretty well), and most of the competition is done indoors since the States meet only includes the 1500m race walk for indoors. At Nationals the girls do the mile. The NY boys do not do the race walk except for a few guys who compete at the mile indoors and 3000m outdoors at Nationals, but not with anywhere near the same success as the NY girls, though Brockport's AJ Gruttadauro took 2nd at the 2016 indoor Nationals. And sure we all remember Tim Lewis who was the boys walk champ at the 1979 indoor States or the last champ Kyle Eighmy in 1985 before the event got taken away from the guys, supposedly for bad behavior.
Third, even in NY the race walk has some real hot spots and frozen dead spots. Suffolk County of Section 11 has the biggest concentration of race walkers and often the top competitors, and Sections 1, 5, and 8 also are busy, with Section 9, 6, and 4 a bit lighter. Rarely or never do you spot a race walker in Section 3 or the less populated 7 and 10.
And fourth, everybody loves a champion's sprint to the finish, but in race walking that's a no-no, unless you redefine the term "sprint" to just mean moving your feet a little faster down the final straightaway.
The records for outdoor race walking competition are a little spotty since it is mainly an indoor event that doesn't start getting featured outdoors until competitions such as New Balance Outdoor Nationals and the AAU and USATF Juniors meets are held in the summer. For this article in the outdoor State Record Snapshot series, we are looking at what appears to be the best times for three different distances (1500m, mile, 10K) outdoors but with also a nod to the champion's' exploits indoors. I have no clue as to who has the top time at the 5K distance which is done at a few meets.
Just how tough Section 11 can be in the race walk competition is evident in the freshman year results for Sachem East's Lauren Harris in 2014. She finished 11th in her S11 State Qualifier but finished the year with the 29th best time in the nation. Tops in the state and nation that year was Sachem North senior Katie Michta whose older sister is Maria Michta (Coffey) who won three States and a US Juniors titles in the early 2000s (see below) and who as an American Olympian has been the mentor for many top race walkers in the Sachem and Long Island area, including Harris. Though taller and longer striding than many of her fellow walkers in an event more populated by shorter quick-stepping athletes, Harris soon found her groove. Known for her toughness and aided by her XC training with the always strong Flaming Arrows team, by 2015 as a sophomore Harris had improved enough under Michta's guidance to finish 1st in her section and then 3rd at States and 4th at Nationals. Outdoors she finished 2nd at Nationals to a RWer from Beavercreek (not Taylor Ewert, a 7th grader at that point).
By Harris's junior year she was walking alone. Undefeated both indoors and outdoors, she captured the States win with a time of 6:35.16 to move into 3rd all-time in the state at that point, and also picked up wins both indoor and outdoor at Nationals in the mile race walk with a 6:57.36 at the Armory and a 6:52.23 outdoors in NC, a state and national record. Her senior year was a series of broken records as she first got the state mark at the Hispanic Games and then lowered it with a national record in the Ocean Breeze Freedom Games with a 6:17.59. She went on to win again at 2017 States in a meet record 6:27.05. Harris smashed the national record in the mile race walk at NBIN with a 6:53.44 as freshman Taylor Ewert finished 16 seconds back in 2nd. Outdoors at the Pan American Trials she set an NY record for the 10K race walk when she lost by a second to Ewert in a time of 49:55.00. She got her best ever time for the 1500m distance when she won at the outdoor Section 11 State Qualifier in a non-qualifying event when she walked a 6:17.20 for another unofficial state record. That wrapped up her HS career before she headed off to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, the only college in the US that supports race walking. Harris is hoping to join her mentor from Sachem -- Maria Michta Coffey, the two-time Olympian and #1 US race walker -- at the Tokyo Olympics whenever it is held.
Before Harris started walking off with the RW records, the official 1500m indoor mark was held by Lisa Kutzing of Port Jefferson, who also held the unofficial mark for outdoors of 6:24.5 in 1998.
Lauren Harris interview after setting national record for indoor mile race walk at 2017 Nationals.