Step-by-Step Guide to Olympic Berth : Race walking: Mission Viejo’s Allen James will be only U.S. competitor in the 20-kilometer event at Barcelona.
Because of the herky-jerky mechanics involved in his sport, race walker Allen James usually gets plenty of stares when his training takes him to the bike and walking trails.
But a few weeks ago, James really got some peculiar looks.
While preparing for the expected heat and humidity at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in New Orleans, James wore layers of clothes during his training walks to condition himself.
“I was wearing long-sleeved shirts and jackets on some pretty hot days,” said James, who is 6 feet 3 and 175 pounds. “You can’t really simulate humidity, but with all that gear on I’d lose about five pounds on a short, six-mile workout. People probably were wondering what I was doing. They probably thought I was just another Southern California loony.”
Well, maybe. But this one is going to the Olympic Games.
James, 28, will be the sole U.S. representative in the 20-kilometer race walk in Barcelona. He qualified in New Orleans by winning in 1 hour 29 minutes 28.0 seconds. He defeated Gary Morgan, the defending Olympic trials champion, by 55 seconds.
His time was 5:28 slower than the Olympic qualifying standard of 1:24.0, but it earned James a spot on the U.S. team because every country is guaranteed at least one athlete in the event. And for James, who admits his chances of winning a medal in Spain are remote, the opportunity is what counts.
“I remember watching the 1972 Olympics on TV. . . . That was my first inspiration,” said James, who set his personal best of 1:25:01 in the St. Patrick’s Day 20K in March at Cal State Long Beach. “I knew then that no matter in which event, I wanted to be in the Olympic Games.”
Soon after, James began working for that goal. By the time he was 12, he knew he had a knack for race walking.
“In our (junior high) practices, we used to have to walk one lap around the track, and I was always the first one in,” James said. “One day my coach asked me to do the 800-meter walk, and I kept doing it.”
At Shorecrest High School in Seattle, James specialized in cross-country and running the 800 meters. He also swam and played soccer. But when it was time for college, James became more serious about race walking.
“Running became kind of hard for my knees, and walking is much easier on your body,” he said.
So James concentrated on race walking at Western Washington University, where he majored in business administration and was a four-time NAIA All-American in track. He was the NAIA District I champion in the 10,000-meter walk four consecutive years and finished second in the national championships during his junior season in 1985. James also was a collegiate teammate of Herm Nelson, who will be one of three Americans in the 50K race in Barcelona.
“I actually taught him (Nelson) to race walk,” James said. “He was a distance runner. We are both coached by Martin Rudow.”
James and Rudow now rely on modern technology to talk shop. Rudow lives in Washington and James, who moved from Seattle to Orange County 3 1/2 years ago, lives in Mission Viejo with his wife, Laura, and 7-month-old daughter, Teisha. That leaves a couple of alternatives when they need to communicate.
“We correspond by fax or by telephone on a weekly basis,” James said. “But I’ve basically trained by myself here. That’s become really difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to get out there by yourself and be motivated. It really helps to have someone else there.”
Without training partners to keep him company, James walks about 50 to 60 miles a week with little more than his thoughts along for the sessions. He trains at different locations, but tries to walk at Upper Newport Bay--one of his favorite spots--whenever possible, though it is not close to his home or job with the Anaheim-based Athletes in Action.
James said his position with Athletes in Action as team manager--ordering equipment, entering members in track and field meets, booking hotel rooms and airline seats--is a perfect setup.
“It’s a job that I like and that allows me to train,” James said. “Athletes in Action is a Christian ministry, so it allows me to combine a couple of my loves, which are Christ and sports.”
Even though James probably won’t win a medal in Barcelona, he will make good use of the experience.
“Being realistic, the rest of the world is farther ahead as far as times are concerned,” said James, who has never competed in a world championship race. “That takes a lot of pressure off me. This (Olympics) is part of a four-year plan to give me the experience I need for Atlanta in ’96. It’s going to take several experiences like this (to become a medal contender).”
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