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Walk the Walk

by Jim Provenzano
Bay Area Reporter
April 2003

Here, and in Sydney, local athletes won honors and continue to achieve success in the seemingly simple yet demanding sport of race walking.

In a race walk, you have to keep a certain form. There are six judges on the course checking your form as you go by.

If you get three calls from judges for bent knees, you're out. Your leg has to be straight as your heel touches the track.

Maintaining form is the hard thing in this oddly waddling track sport, because the judges can see from all angles.

"It's a little more strenuous than just running, but it's less impactive," said multiple medallist Jon Borset.

"It's actually the most efficient way to walk with speed," he said. "There's a natural tendency for people to bend their knees, thinking they're absorbing the shock."

Borset started in 1988, and works out regularly with Frontrunners, and belongs to the Golden Gate Race Walkers, a mixed group of over-50 race walkers.

Despite his years of experience, his competition in Sydney was one of the more professionally run events.

"In a regular race with a club, everyone's observant, but I didn't expect so many disqualifications," he said.

Borset had trained for the marathon as well, "But when I got there," he said, "because of the heat, the medical personnel refused to take responsibility. They had to restrict time limit or cancel it, so I took the half marathon."

He won the silver in the 70-75 age group, coming in at a 2:51 time, mentioning that he'd been slowed down a bit with a foot injury. "But I'm always conscious of my time and trying to improve."

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Borset moved to New York. After a 1956 visit to San Francisco, he made it his home.

"There was already a gay community," he recalls. "New York was great, but San Francisco was like heaven, with a lot of guys coming back from the military. Word got around that San Francisco was a great environment, so people just flocked here. It was one big party. The '60s were fabulous."

A self-described "late bloomer" to athletics, Borset enjoyed the first two Games from the stands.

"I never dreamed I could be competitive," he said, but at the second Games when they announced race walking, Borset eventually took it up, winning a gold in Vancouver, a silver in New York, and a bronze in Amsterdam.

Sydney proved "supportive and friendly" to Borset. "I was really impressed."

Off-season, he race-walks with Frontrunners every Saturday, and is training for a half marathon in Vancouver this May.

Garland Murphy also competed in the Race Walk at the sixth Games, and won a gold medal in the 50-55 age group, competing with four others.

He also ran in the 10,000 Road Race set around Homebush Stadium, but as a race walker.

"It was a road race, but I placed as a jogger," he explained.

Murphy has run the more traditional race events, but prefers race walking, and took it up as a physical exercise.

"I was a couch potato and a smoker, so I decided to get up and start doing something," he said.

He took a course, then joined a club. "One thing led to another, and I started competing locally."

Now he's going to national and regional competitions, and trains with the Golden Gate Race Walkers and the Marin Race Walkers.

Most events are held in spring and summer. Murphy's next major competition is the World Masters Track & Field Championships held this July in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the US National Masters in August in Eugene, Oregon.

Such events are few. "Mostly it's not a big sport in the states," said Murphy. "Internationally, it's a lot more popular in Europe. The top walkers are from South America and Eastern Europe."

Murphy competes mostly against straight people, saying that there aren't too many gay race walkers, despite some misconceptions.

"Most people think of race walking as kind of a sissy sport, but it requires a lot of technique," he said.

"You have to walk according to USA Track & Field rules. It's a fine line between running and walking."

The budget analyst and accountant for the San Francisco Housing Authority finds the time to commit to his own competition.

"Track and field runners get a lot more sponsorship and publicity, so it's easy for a top level track star to get support. But for race walker, it's all your expense."

Being his first Games, Murphy focused on his mid-week events, saving the opportunity to bask in his accomplishments for after winning.

"You had to keep focused," he said. "I had no idea who my other competition would be." Yet the celebrations were meaningful as well.

"The biggest feeling of joy and pride of being gay is the reception we got from the crowd and spectators, walking into the stadium. I also really appreciated the praise I got from other track team members."


and at SF Frontrunners

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