Local teen to represent Team USA in World Cup

EUGENE, Ore. — Pickens County athlete Jonathan Hallman has earned a spot on the U.S. national track and field team that will compete in Saransk, Russia, May 12 for the World Cup of Race Walking.
Every two years the World Cup brings together the top athletes in the sport from more than 40 countries to compete in races of 10, 20 and 50 kilometers (6.2, 12.4 and 31.1 miles).
“Many of these athletes will go on to compete in the Olympic Games later this year, so the World Cup is a good preview of what to expect in London,” Hallman said. “I’m awe-struck by the level of competition I’ll be joining in Russia and I know how blessed I am to have this opportunity. It’s really the dream of a lifetime.”
Hallman, 18, muscled through driving, 42-degree rain to meet the standards of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Cup Team Trials held at the University of Oregon Sunday, May 1.
Only the top three competitors in the 10k race earned a berth on the U.S. junior national team, which is restricted to athletes 19 and younger. Joining Hallman on the squad are Alejandro Chavez of Texas and Michael Nemeth of Pennsylvania.
The Oregon trials also selected the U.S. junior women’s team and 20k teams for men and women; the men’s 50k trials were held earlier this year in California. Ian Whatley, the Greer, coach and former national team member who helped guide Hallman’s training, also placed an athlete on the men’s 20k World Cup team, 21-year-old Dan Serianni of New York.
A 2011 Pickens High School graduate, Hallman first earned a spot on Team USA last summer after capturing the high school national outdoor championship last June in Greensboro, N.C.
“Qualifying for races on the international stage was a major step up for me,” said Hallman, now a Tri-County Technical College student. “It has required a serious change in lifestyle to commit to the level of training necessary for global competition. But it has opened up so many doors for me, and I’m very motivated to qualify and represent my country.”
Hallman’s training frequently involves distance work of 15 miles or more in a day, which makes him a common sight around Pickens County. He mixes the distance training with speed work on area tracks.
Originating in Great Britain 400 years ago, the sport of race walking joined the modern Olympics in 1904. Two rules separate it from running: One foot must remain on the ground at all times, and as soon as the lead foot hits the ground, the knee above it must be straight. Judges around the course ensure that athletes obey the rules. Three infractions disqualify a competitor.
For most of the past century, the strongest competition has come from Europe and Latin America. Russia now dominates the sport, and Saransk is home to Russia’s race walk training program.
“Saransk is the pinnacle of race walking right now. To compete there is like stepping up to the plate in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park,” Hallman said. “This is an amazing opportunity for me, and I want to make the most of it. I’m truly thankful to all the people who have helped me get to this point.”
The one-kilometer course on which Hallman will compete skirts the gold-domed Russian Orthodox cathedral in the center of Saransk, the capital of the Republic of Mordovia about 400 miles east of Moscow. As many as 150 athletes are expected for Hallman’s race, and more than 50,000 spectators are expected to line the course to see the World Cup competition.
“Race walking doesn’t tend to draw much of a crowd in the United States, so this will be almost as much of an adjustment as trying to understand the Cyrillic alphabet,” Hallman said.
The United States last won an Olympic medal in the sport in Munich in 1972, but Hallman said a number of young American athletes are invigorating the sport again.
“Race walkers, like most distance athletes, don’t usually mature until they are in their 30s, and we have the strongest field of young race walkers now that this country has ever had,” he said. “It’s just an incredible honor to be able to compete in races with people like Trevor Barron, who is the odds-on favorite to lead our Olympic 20k team this year, or Tyler Sorenson, Dan Serianni or Mike Mannozzi. American race walking has such a great future in athletes like these, and I’m just proud to have to chance to walk with them.”