Army Olympian to Teach Race Walking on ‘Today’
By Gary Sheftick
Army News Service
LONDON, July 29, 2012 Army Olympian Staff Sgt. John Nunn will teach Americans how to race walk tomorrow morning on NBC’s “Today” show.
Nunn and his Olympic teammate, Maria Michta, spent yesterday afternoon teaching the program’s cast members the finer points of their event. After some instruction, NBC broadcasters Al Roker, Matt Lauer and Ryan Seacrest joined Nunn for a lap around the track.
Meanwhile, Michta coached Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales and Meredith Vieira and urged them to try to defeat the men in a race that will highlight the televised segment.
NBC producers said they selected race walking as the sport to showcase because it’s fun, interesting and unfamiliar to most Americans.
Race walking has more of a following in countries such as China and Russia, Nunn said. He and Michta said they hope the “Today” segment will help to make the sport more popular in America.
In race walking, one foot must remain in contact with the ground at all times. The toes of the athlete's back foot cannot leave the ground until the heel of the front foot has touched. The front leg must straighten when it touches the ground and remain straight until the body passes directly over it.
Athletes stay low to the ground by keeping their arms pumping close to their hips. They keep their strides short and quick and push off from the balls of their feet.
After trying it out, Vieira said race walking is more difficult than running. Other “Today” cast members agreed the sport is harder than it looks.
Nunn, 34, has been race walking since he was a youngster. He is a 12-year veteran of the U.S Army World Class Athlete Program and has been training on and off with the program since 2000. He competed under WCAP at the 2004 Olympics, finishing 26th in the 20-kilometer race walk in Athens, Greece.
Nunn is a five-time U.S. National silver medalist in the 20k race walk, but has trained for less than eight months for the 50k race walk, a 31-mile across-terrain event he won at the U.S. Olympic Trials earlier this year and will compete in here Aug. 11.
Nunn said he wants to focus on the 50k in the future, adding that he’d like to stay with the Army and continue training after the London Games.
Nunn said the Army has helped him focus. From basic training onward, he added, the Army has taught him many things, including discipline and how to focus on benchmarks.
“The Army has really taught me how to bring it all in together and realize what is important,” Nunn said.
Nunn’s teammate, Michta, said she has looked up to the soldier since she began competitive race walking as a young teenager.
“I was in high school the first time I met John, [and] he was one of those big-league Olympian race-walker guys,” said Michta, 26. “In race¬ walking … it’s a tight-knit crowd, so you look up to all the senior athletes.”
Michta said Nunn has helped her in London by telling her what to expect.
“It’s great to hear from the veterans who know the ropes,” she said.
Nunn is a single parent, and his 8-year-old daughter, Ella, will join him in London, where the 50-kilometer race-walk course will cover city streets and pass by Buckingham Palace.