Walking Olympian - What does it take to go to 5 consecutive Olympics? An Interview

5 Consecutive Olympics - What does it take?

Chris Maddocks is a race walker from Great Britain who, in the 50km race walk at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, became the first British track athlete to compete in five Olympic games. Following his retirement Chris became a sports journalist and commentator.
In this interview Chris talks about his training, balancing life as a professional athlete with his work, and he gives an interesting insight into the world of race walking.

I believe you are the only athlete in the UK to have competed in 5 consecutive Olympics? That's an amazing achievement.

​I'm the only man in British athletics to have competed at 5 Olympics 1984-2000.  I qualified for 6; controversially I didn't get selected for the Moscow Olympics following an international 50km race win in Poland 1980, when I set my first British record and was over 3 minutes inside the qualifying time.  A victim of Government politics and less funding during those times.

For those that don't know much about race walking, please could you explain what it is and what the rules are? 

Two rules. The forward leg on heal strike must be straight at the knee (a
runners will be bent); and secondly, a walker should have one foot in contact with the ground at all times.  A runner in full stride will often have both feet off the ground.  Race walks are watched by a number of judges around any circuit. The Olympics have two men’s race walk distances, 20km and 50km.

Do you train for race walking in the same way you would for running - so different session types, tempo, hills, intervals, long etc?  ​

Yes, it's similar. A typical training week would include:  the long one up to 45kms, track sessions, up to 20 x 1kms with 200m recovery, fast sustained road sessions typically 25kms, and steady road walks of 10 - 20kms. Average full week 160kms.  Plus, daily indoor mobility/stretching exercises, and sometimes one- or two-mile pool swims/week.

Do you have to wear a specialist kind of shoe? 

I usually used a low-profile marathon shoe. Hard, not too spongy heel.

You have quite a career and so many achievements, What is your greatest achievement and why?

Having a 20 year Olympic racing career.  My most gratifying race unfortunately was probably the 1989 New York Marathon. Of the invited elite walkers, I finished 2nd to a top Mexican (3x World Cup winner, Olympic silver medalist), but I beat some of the best in the world - including Russia's Andrei Perlov 50km World record holder who would go onto win gold in Barcelona 1992, plus a number of other world and European champions. Wish I'd done that at a major championship!

Are race walkers less prone to injury than runners? 

I don't think so. I had to cope with loads of injuries: knees, back, most notably for me, hamstrings. Fortunately, I had a number of good medical friends who would help me with treatment straightaway with any new problem.

What did you do in the way of strength and conditioning? 

​I lifted weights three times a week. My methods were a bit old fashioned really.  For a 10 stone man, I was quite strong and enjoyed lifting unnecessary big weights.  Bench press was a favourite...routinely lift 200lb x20 reps.  Rather than a skinny endurance athlete, I looked more like a welter-weight boxer or

Did you have a specific nutrition plan? How did you refuel during races? What was your favourite energy source?

​I retired from racing in 2000, after the Sydney Olympics.  For most
of my 33 years racing I simply ate as much as I could...not that I knew much about it, but possibly around 4000-5000 cals/day.  Latterly, I did try to eat healthily as I became better informed.  Extra carbs like potatoes, pasta and rice plus fruit.  In the early days, I thought donuts were carbs!  You live & learn.

I believe you were working full time when you were an athlete? How did you fit training into your day?

Not all the time. During my 23-year international career I was, a full-time baker, a
student O, A levels, university, unemployed, part-time veterinary assistant, gym manager, public relations sports journalists.  I trained like a full-time athlete with as much professionalism as I knew.  Self-coached, so I made loads of mistakes, but it kind of worked out in the end.

Are you still competing, training or coaching now?

Not competed since I took those infamous last steps across the finish line in Sydney. I go to the gym twice a week to lift weights.  With Covid19 I simply do some indoor exercises at home, and, Frankie, our young border collie
gets lots of daily walks.  I've coached since the early 1980 & 90's.  1997/98 I was a national coach. Now, I occasionally mentor those who ask.  I met my wife in 2004; I helped her and a friend prepare for the 2005 London marathon. I stay in touch with international sport through live commentating at major championships.

For anyone interested in taking up race walking, how would you recommend they start? 

Approach your local athletics club.  Facebook as a race-walking group which I think has over 2000 members.

Is racewalking for any age group? 

Yes. From under 10 juniors, boys and girls, to all age-group masters.

Did you have any kind of good luck mascot or routine? 

No mascot but shortly before any race, I routinely preferred to be left alone in order to focus.

Were the race walkers a close knit supportive community?

Yes, whether at club level or world level. We raced hard, but were invariably good friends afterwards. Thankfully, Facebook means I continue to stay in touch with many racing rivals/friends.

What sort of message in your head kept you going when things got tough?

How hard I'd trained to be where I was.

You have written a book about your athletic career. Please could you tell us where we can find it and perhaps a short synopsis of what you hoped to convey through your writing?

​It is very gratifying to see and hear people say such positive things after reading my story. From a very young age I loved sport and had dreams of competing at the Olympics. ​ I had no idea how to do it, but had good people around to help guide me in the early days.  I worked hard and belligerently kept going.  Young or older, I would advise anyone to listen well to the wisdom of those more experienced.  Reach for the stars but keep your feet on the ground.

Get Chris's book from Amazon

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