HYDE PARK, ENGLAND – Despite the slew of sporting events taking place Saturday, hundreds of spectators trickled into Green Park to catch a glimpse of 56 athletes racing neck-in-neck along a 31-mile course — and walking to the finish line.
Though men’s speed walking is not traditionally included among the most popular sports in the games, a massive audience lined up to watch Saturday’s event.
“I was at the women’s triathlon this morning, and it wasn’t nearly as crowded,” said Kevin Sullivan of Boston, Massachusetts. “I just showed up and sat right on the railing without any problems. I figured it would be bigger than speed walking, but I guess not.”
The scenic background and free admission on the stretch near Buckingham Palace prompted high attendance, not necessarily the event itself, said London Olympic Ambassador Sue Lockney. She said the area, not the sport, is well known.
“It’s been like a sports festival here,” Lockney said. “We love to see people come out and enjoy themselves.”
Fans from all over were hard-pressed to find a spot to stand, climbing on railings, shimmying up lampposts and stretching along the street's edge to watch competitors loop around the Queen Victoria Memorial on Constitution Hill.
“We’re just here to enjoy the event because it’s available,” said Dave Randhawa of Chicago. “It’s in front of Buckingham Palace; what more do you want?”
During the race, competitors walked towards Buckingham Palace, circled around Victoria Memorial and traveled up Constitution Hill towards Hyde Park 25 times.
In the end, Chinese competitor Chen Ding took first place with a time of 1:18:46, followed by Guatemalan race walker Erick Barrondo and China’s Zhen Wang in second and third place.
“Its amazing to see all the flags from all the different countries, to see everyone together,” said Julia O’Leary of Cork, Ireland. “It’s great that all different sports are getting massive amounts of support.”
Even though the sport may not have a substantial following in England, Al Moralee of Kent said it’s important to show support for athletes during all events, big or small.
“We just want to be a part of it, really,” Moralee said. “The weather’s been great, support for our athletes has been second to none, and it’s been so friendly. We just want to be as close to the action as we can.”
This article was provided through Scripps London 2012, a program allowing students in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism to cover 2012 Summer Olympics events in London. Four Post staff members are participating in the program.