By Raghava Lakshminarayana and Nicola Shannon
Two time Olympian Maria Michta-Coffey, and aspiring Olympian David Hurtado, broke an American 30K record and South American 10K record at the 2016 USA Track & Field (USATF) Race Walk Championships last Sunday, Nov. 6, in Hauppauge, NY.
The American record for the Women’s 30K race now stands at 2:29:17 as Michta-Coffey beat Teresa Vaill’s 2:31:30 time from the 2010 USATF Race Walk Championships, according to USATF records.
The new South American Under 18 record for the 10K distance now stands at 41:32. Ecuador’s David Hurtado beat Colombia’s Eider Arévalo’s time of 42:13 that was set in 2010, according to the South American Confederation of Athletics.
“[Teresa Vaill] set such a high bar for a lot of our marks and this is one of those marks that you couldn’t just show up for and do, it was something that was not so easily attainable,” Michta-Coffey said. She had attempted to beat Vaill’s record in 2014, but fell short.
Race walking is an olympic sport that differs from running in that one foot must always be touching the ground and the walker must land with a straight knee. This event, at the 2K Walter Hawrys Track, served as a place for national and international athletes to test their skills.
“After this we’re done with the final stage [of preparation] and we’re ready for the competition,” Hurtado said, referring to his bigger goal, the South American Under 18 Athletics Championships, which will take place on Nov. 12 and 13 in Argentina.
“It’s nice to get the international athletes to come here,” Gary Westerfield, the race meet manager, said. “We have Colombia, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Brazil. They come to this race because it’s a good time in the year to get a test to see where they are fitness-wise. We’ll probably have more next year as we get into qualifying periods for the Olympic games.”
Last year this event was held at Rockland State Park, in Valley Cottage, NY. Westerfield agreed to host the annual event on Long Island this year.
Westerfield has also been certified to judge race walking by the International Association of Athletics Federations. He measured out the distances for Sunday’s 5K, 10K, 20K, 30K and 50K races. But no one competed in the 50K on Sunday, Westerfield said.
The certified distances and the presence of three different international judges meant that any records set at the event would be official, Nadya Dimitrov, event Medical Director and Associate Clinical Professor at Stony Brook University, said.
“You need certain criteria to set standards and some countries do not have competitions you can do that at,” Erin Taylor-Talcott, the first female race walker to compete in men’s only 50K races, said. “We have multiple competitions per year that meet those criteria and thankfully other countries come and take advantage of it.”
Some athletes also came for different weather conditions.
“The cold works for me. We train in a very hot place, so when we come to cold places we’re well acclimatized,” José Meléndez Cintrón, the current race walk champion of Puerto Rico, said. “There’s little moisture but there’s more wind than in other competitions but it can be managed.”
“It’s hard to compare times because the conditions there were windy, like today, just very hot,” Michta-Coffey said of her participation in the Rio Olympics. “I’ve been all over the world and I definitely have enjoyed those experiences and have great memories, but there’s nothing like racing at home.”