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The Racewalk Electronic Detection System


In the 1990s, there was an attempt to introduce an electronic system to control loss of contact in race walking, using a system invented and patented by Mr. Dennis Furlong (patents: EP0360930A1 and US 4956628) and based on the use of specific shoes provided with pressure sensors inserted in the sole giving electrical signals to two electronic devices included in the shoes. These devices, in turn, provided an alarm when there was a failure or loss of contact by the walker. The Furlong design allowed for a small loss of contact, called a 'flight time'. Any losses of contact greater than this threshold amount would register.

The system was examined and assessed by World Athletics (then known as the IAAF) but it was discarded as it had several problems due to its excessive weight and size and due to the insufficient accuracy of its operation.

Technology has progressed a long way since then and hence the revisit, taking advantage of new technological designs. A position paper was prepared in 2013 by Italian Antonio Amigo and was then widely circulated for review and comment (see http://www.vrwc.org.au/documents/2013-Electronic-System-for-loss-of-contact-control-in-Race-Walking-Antonio-Amigo.pdf).

An amount of money was made available by World Athletics to mount a pilot study for what was termed The Electronic Detection System Project to create a definitive judging system for race walking events. As of December 2016, this pilot had now moved to the design stage, with contracts signed to construct two preindustrial demonstration prototypes to detect loss of contact by race walkers. One will be used in training and another for competition. The timeline for completion of the project was 18 months.

The results of this project were to considered by the World Athletics Race Walking Committee in order to draw up a rule change proposal which would then need to be considered by the Technical Committee and approved by Council. The goal was to be able to trial a system in competitions ahead of the 2019 World Athletics Championships.

Note that this would only have detected loss of contact or unacceptable flight phase times. Judges would still be required to monitor the event (in particular, the final 100m) and rule on bent knees.

It was hoped by many of us that the final accepted rule change would be based on minimum flight times rather than on pure contact. It is fair to say that any new system that seeks to completely eliminate any loss of contact would force such a slowdown in races that it would effectively kill the sport. And of course, it goes without saying that the current records would need to be anulled.

Dr Brian Hanley from Leeds University, a leading expert in the field of race walking biomechanics, recently asked his opinion early in late 2017 on how the proposed electronic shoe would effect times achieved by walkers. His full report Measurement of Flight Time in Race Walking was published in http://www.vrwc.org.au/newsletters/heelandtoe-2018-num09.pdf. It made for interesting reading and raised the question – how much analysis had World Athletics done on this topic and what sort of flight phase were they going to allow? The devil’s in the detail and at that time NO details had been published.

Interestingly, in the two years since then, there does not seem to have been any progression. The electronic devices have not been used in any test races. No technical documents have been published. It is my opinion that the project, like the now defunct World Athletics Race Walking Committee, is dead in the water and we are unlikely to hear anything further.

But who really knows so .... STAY TUNED!