Much of the banter on the Olympic 50K walk thread seems to have been based on some misunderstanding of how racewalks are judged. Let’s review.

A walk is covered by at least 5 judges; the Olympics probably had 8. It’s held on a short loop so each judge sees each athlete many times. When a judge feels that an athlete is not walking legally, he fills out a little red card and sends it in to the chief judge. The judge says nothing to the athlete, and there are no little paddles to alert the walker or the TV audience, but there is a board which the athlete can check every lap to see if he’s received any red cards. After sending in a red card on a particular athlete, a judge can’t send in another for any reason. So seeing his name on the board, the athlete knows there’s a judge out there who can no longer harm him, but he doesn’t know which one. Three reds and you’re out.

In parallel with this is a second warning system. If the judge thinks the athlete is borderline, where he can’t really bring himself to send in a red card, but another judge might see it differently, the judge can, if he wants to, do the athlete a favour by showing him a yellow paddle. This is just a friendly, informal warning except for two things. The judge keeps a list of whom he has warned in this way; and he’s not allowed to warn the same athlete more than once for the same offense. So when TV viewers see someone getting a yellow paddle, it means that particular judge feels the guy is still legal, but pushing his luck.

Where this goes wrong is when judges use the paddle when they should send in a red card. They’re reasoning, I suppose, ‘I’ll give him a warning this time, but if he doesn’t settle down by the next lap, then I’ll send in a card.’ As was noted in the women’s 20K thread, athletes who do in fact settle down after a couple of yellow paddles can then survive the race, keeping all the advantage they gained while they were illegal.

Quick Silver
Hong Kong