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Simon Smith - Western Leader
When Jared Free goes for a walk his father has to ride a bicycle to keep up.
The Henderson 18-year-old can race walk a kilometre in 4:05 minutes - a pace that is difficult to jog.
Free is now the fastest junior at the sport in the country and he is serious about securing a bright future for himself.
Every week in his training he covers the distance from the Harbour Bridge to Huntly, about 95km.
He is aiming for selection for the World Junior Championships in Athletics to be held in Russia in July 2016.
To make it he reckons he will need to increase his average speed per kilometre from 4:37 mins to 4:16 mins over 10km, the distance under-20s compete in.
Free says race walking is much harder than it looks as athletes push each and every step for maximum speed.
He finds it tougher than running as it uses a completely different set of muscles to normal walking, with the lower back in heavy use.
It is not uncommon for top athletes to reach complete exhaustion as they compete over 50km, he says.
When most people think of race walking the poignant images of Craig Barrett collapsing at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games come to mind.
Barrett came back to win silver at the next Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
Free says the sport is "huge" worldwide, especially in China, Russia and Japan.
But it also has a proud history in New Zealand.
The country's first Olympic medal in any code was won at the London games in 1908 by Harry Kerr.
The New Zealander, competing for Australasia, took out bronze in the 3500m walk.
Race walking is different from just a fast walk in that there are two rules that the athletes have to obey.
They have to have a foot on the ground at all times and must keep their front leg straight until it's past the body.
What's more the correct stride has to be visible to the human eye, with judges policing their every step.
Judges give a yellow card when an athlete is close to breaking stride and a red when they do.
Three reds and the athlete is disqualified - something Free says has only happened to him once.
It happened frustratingly late in the race but "you just have to go with what they say".
Free first competed in race walking at the Colgate Games when he was 14. "I won that race," he says. "But I was pretty slow back then."
These days the teenager finds that between studying for his BSc in physiology at Auckland University and his training he has little time left.
He trains six days a week for close to two hours each and has given up football this season.
His best achievement to date is taking out the senior men's 10km at the Oceania Championships in Cairns this month, although the field was small due to a lack of Australians competing.
Free is also hopeful for a decent finish at the World Race Walking Cup to be held in Russia in May 2016.
At the previous cup in China last year he came 33rd in the 10km. But he is now 3 minutes faster and next year will still compete as a junior.
Name: Jared Free
Went to: Kelston Boys High School
Club: Waitakere City Athletics Club
Sporting idol: Sir Peter Snell
Favourite dish: Pasta or pizza
Favourite TV show: The Big Bang Theory
If I wasn't race walking: I'd be playing football
Article by Simon Smith posted on Stuff.co.nz see original here
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