Des Kelly's Olympic Daily: Dominic hopes to be king of the walk
21:30 GMT, 10 August 2012
Walk on the wild side: Dominic King (left)
It's Saturday morning and an Englishman from Colchester is going for a walk. Nothing unusual about that, you might think. Sometimes a stretch of the legs and a bit of fresh air is what is needed on the way to the newsagents. It can do wonders for a hangover, too.
Dominic King plans to head along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace, around the Victoria Memorial and then up Constitution Hill to Hyde Park Corner, and then back again.
It is a pleasant stroll of a couple of kilometres, which he’ll do another 24 times at a speed of 14km an hour, which is faster than most people run.
‘Everything is within walking distance if you have the time,’ said comedian Stephen Wright. But King doesn’t have time. He is Britain’s sole Olympic representative in the strange, punishing and often forgotten sport of race walking.
The 29-year-old is hoping to do his country proud in the 50km event, the longest athletics challenge in the Games (the marathon is 42.195km). It is also one of the more mocked disciplines for the way competitors must swing their hips on a rolling gait to keep one foot on the ground at all times.
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The technique looks vaguely like a gang of men are attempting to deliver golf balls clutched between their buttocks for a bet.
I defy anyone not to watch it and think surely it would be easier to run A sentiment that prompted one commentator to say it reminded him of ‘a contest to see who could whisper the loudest’.
But race walking isn’t a joke. It’s a serious business and has been part of the Olympic schedule since 1904. King has been training in the Pyrenees for the London event and is Britain’s No 1.
In echoes of the Brownlee brothers’ triathlon relationship, Dominic trains with his twin brother Daniel, who also happens to be the British No 2.
But Daniel missed out on qualification and King says: ‘I feel like I’ll be doing London for both of us. He’s my training partner and best friend.
‘It would have been the cherry on the cake for my brother to qualify as well. But there’s always Rio in four years, and I’m confident we can both get there.’
Dominic is the first British walker to compete in an Olympic 50km event since Chris Maddocks 12 years ago in Sydney.
Oh brother: Dominic and Daniel King compete in the same event and train together, like British triathlon medal heroes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee
Although he was disqualified from the 20km at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, King finished sixth four years later.
‘I learnt big lessons from 2002,’ he says. ‘I let the emotions overcome me and went off too fast, and ended up being disqualified. I will make sure that this doesn’t happen again.’
He set his personal best this year of 4hr 6min 34sec, but will have to go faster if he wants to be among the medals. While the King twins are relatively unknown in Britain, on the continent race walking can lead to great fame, or — as one athlete found this week — infamy too.
Italian Alex Schwazer sobbed in self-pity and shame after being caught taking the banned blood boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO).
The Beijing gold medallist had been involved in campaigns promoting healthy eating and was sponsored by the police, but he was kicked out of the London Games on Monday when his dope test proved positive.
Schwazer confessed he felt pressured by ‘expectations that I had to dominate even more than before. I couldn’t say no’.
Intriguingly, he admitted he had consulted with Michele Ferrari, the Italian doctor who also acted as a consulting physician for controversial cycling champion Lance Armstrong.
Disgraced: Former Olympic gold medal-winning walker Alex Schwazer
But Schwazer said he met with Ferrari ‘five or six times for technical advice’ about training, with the last contact in early 2011. He denied receiving the performance-enhancing drugs from Ferrari, who has been given a lifetime ban by the US Anti-Doping Agency and banished by the Italian Cycling Federation.
Schwazer, who lives with star figure skater Carolina Kostner, also revealed he had grown to hate race walking. ‘It was making me sick,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t stand the training any more. My girlfriend loves skating. I do the race work because I’m good at it, but I don’t like working at it.’
Schwazer may now have to hand back his gold medal from Beijing as his samples from 2008 are being re-tested.
But this is one scandal he will never be able to walk away from, even if he tries.
In his absence, Russia’s 25-year-old Sergey Bakulin is the favourite for gold, having become the youngest 50km world champion last year in a time of 3:41:24.
Win I’ve got a fat chance
I don't do breakfasts. I had my first morning tea and toast at the London Games on Friday and realised this is probably why I am not an all-conquering, multi-medal-winning Olympic legend.
The other night Usain Bolt spelled out what he had on the morning of his 100 metres victory: ‘I had plantain, some hash browns, and chicken wraps from McDonald’s — there were vegetables in there too, so don’t judge me.’ As if.
The American swimmer Michael Phelps, holder of more medals than any Olympian in history, starts the day with three fried-egg sandwiches, with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. A five-egg omelette, grits, three slices of French toast and three chocolate chip pancakes. Oh, and coffee.
They may be at the peak of human achievement now, but I can console myself with the fact that when they stop running and swimming, they should be hugely fat.