Race Walking National Championships held in Santee

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Blaring speakers blasted out hit after hit on Mast Blvd. next to Santana High School on Sunday. Spectators watched as a stream of athletes flew around a series of cones while being treated to a steady chorus of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” U2’s “Walk On” and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” hinted at the event – the United States 50k Race Walk National Championships were back in Santee.

Blaring speakers blasted out hit after hit on Mast Blvd. next to Santana High School on Sunday. Spectators watched as a stream of athletes flew around a series of cones while being treated to a steady chorus of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” U2’s “Walk On” and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” hinted at the event – the United States 50k Race Walk National Championships were back in Santee.

Participants competed in six different distances, 3k, 5k, 10k, 20k, 25k, 30k and 50k. Although the event was sponsored by USA Track & Field (USATF), international participants were invited to compete alongside the top American race walkers.

Swedish national Andreas Gustaffson was the top overall finisher in the men’s 50k and set a new course record with his time of 3:51:16. John Nunn crossed the finish line fourth overall, but as the first American to finish he was named National Champion with a time of 4:04:08.

Nunn said he was happy with his performance, especially since he was coming off an injury.

“To walk a 50k in four hours, most people can’t run that fast,” he said. “It’s neat to be able to see it.”

Grossmont High and Cuyamaca College graduate Nick Christie, 23, was the second fastest American in his first attempt competing in the 50k with a time of 4:24:45.

“I wasn’t totally happy with the performance today,” he said. “I thought I could have done a little bit better, but I started throwing up a little bit midway through the race. It is what it is, but next time I’ll be a little bit wiser and I’ll have a better idea of how to handle my body.”

Christie said the USATF is currently working on “Project Nine.”

“Our goal for 2016 is to get nine (walkers) on the Olympic team,” he said. “Three men in the 50k, three men in the 20k and three women in the women’s 20k. So right now I want to challenge all of the other US race walkers my age. I’m only 23, this is my third year walking and I was able to get second in the 50k today.”

Christie’s coach at Cuyamaca – recently retired race walker and current Coyotes’ cross-country coach Tim Seaman – was on hand to help him and fellow Cuyamaca alum Emmanuel Corvara. Seaman, who still holds several American race walking records, said holding the event in Santee could increase the sport’s awareness.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to show what race walking is and when it’s shown properly to the right people great things can occur,” he said. “With Emmanuel Corvara and Nick Christie coming out of East County, it shows that with a little bit of push showing what the event is about we can have some great athletes coming out of East County. Nick’s the second best in America today.”

Seaman’s wife, Rachel, won the women’s 20k race with a time of 1:36:40. Rachel Seaman currently holds four Canadian national race walking records, but said she enjoyed competing in her adopted home of San Diego County.

“It’s a really rare opportunity for us to compete at home,” she said. “(We can) stay at home the night before the race and it was so nice to just be here in the community and see something familiar.”

Community member Steven Dale rode by on his bicycle and was excited to learn that Santee was hosting a national championship event.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think it brings a little activity and recognition to the community… I think Santee is a growing community and I think it shines a nice light on it.”

Meet director Phillip Dunn said the event was a success.

“We had a great international field that joined our top national walkers so it made for a really exciting race, both on the men’s and the women’s side,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of spectators but those who were here and knowledgeable about the sport, they got a really good show today.”

Other top finishers from the Sunday’s events: Erin Taylor-Talcott, who holds a slew of American records, won the women’s 50k national championship with a time of 4:38:11. Ecuadorian Mauricio Arteaga’s time of 1:30:07 put him atop the 20k standings and 17-year old Mexican national Mario-Andres de los Rios finished the 10k in 44:30, his 7:10 per mile was the fastest pace out of any event.

Dunn said the city of Santee was very accommodating.

“Thank you to Santee, thank you to the weather gods because everything cooperated,” he said. “We had a lot of people from all over the country and they’re heading to the beach after the race today. They’re really loving Southern California.”

For more information about race walking, visit usatf.org/sports/race-walking.

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