A Hearty Nomad

Focus on: Orsolya Gruber

Focus on: Orsolya Gruber

I met Orsolya Gruber from Hungary for the first time in Dudince, first I thought she was a racewalker but I found out a minute later she is a judge. The last time  I saw her was in Bydgoszcz at the U23. So I know Orsolya for only a few months but most racewalkers know her face for a long time. The reason I decided to interview Orsolya is because she is a star too.


1. In Germany, we call someone who has a lot of experiences and does something for a long time an ”old rabbit”, are you one when we talk about Racewalking? 
Thank you for the opportunity. I am definitely not a „star”. As a matter of fact, yes, I am quite old in race walking. I spent 30 years in it.

2. Were you a racewalker before becoming a judge?
Yes! After a few years in gymnastics and long-distance running, I landed in race walking. It was love at first sight. I was a proud member of the Hungarian National Team, even after my second child was born. I wanted to prove myself that it was possible.

3. Why did you become a judge?
I started to help in athletic competitions quite early, at 12 years old, mostly showing the way with a flag in marathon races. I loved the atmosphere, and I was very enthusiastic. Later, I became official in Hungarian athletic events. I passed all grades of the exam system to become an all-round athletic judge. In 1998, I was the Call Room referee at the European Athletics Championships in Budapest. Then I started to officiate in race walking, first in national, then in international level. I still do both, working in Hungary at every important competition, and in race walking everywhere in Europe.

4. Do you need to be a racewalker first?
Not at all. But for me, it helps. I can literally „feel” the athletes’ movements. Also, I have seen so many different styles both on training and on competitions every day, for decades, that it gives me a wider approach.

5. Does anyone in your family does racewalking as well?
No. My mother was a good runner, and all my family is quite sportive. I also let my 3 children to choose their own sport, and never imposed them the race walking, as it is so special, you have to really like it, otherwise you just suffer and quit.

6. What do you like so much about being a judge?
I had to stop competing after an accident and several operations. Through judging I can stay on track. But most of all, I like the fair game! By eliminating the athletes who break the rules, we allow good race walkers to succeed.

7. Could I become a judge and how long would it take me to be where you are now?
Anyone, who wants to officiate, has to apply first at his/her national Athletics Federation. The procedure is quite similar in every country. You need to pass exams and spend years in judging first. Then, to become an international official, this is again your national Federation, who must delegate you. Then you have to pass exams and be shortlisted to the panel of the IAAF. The panel has also an evaluation system, and exams to pass every 4 years.

8. How many international judges are there?
There are different levels of judging. The national level, the Area level and the International level. I am in the European Walking Judges Panel, which is the Level II. We are around 25 judges. In the IAAF Level III Panel there are also about 25 judges.

9. Are there different types of judges in Racewalking?
Basically, all judges are the same, but at each event they choose a Chief Judge, who has a different job then all the others. He/She has the right to disqualify (with the red paddle) the athlete, who collected 3 disqualification proposals from 3 different judges.
Every judge can be Chief Judge, they all have the same qualification.

10. Do you apply to judge an event or how does it work?
No. They invite you. Let it be in national or international level. In international race walking events, the IAAF or the EAA delegates the International Race Walking Judges (IRWJ), all from different countries. This is a rule that helps the objectivity and fair judging.

11. Is it a voluntary job?
Yes. You have to love it, otherwise you wouldn’t spend your weekends and holidays on competitions.

12. What was the biggest event you ever judged at?
The Universiade in Kazan, Russia 2013.

13. What is your favorite event or the place where you don’t mind going every year to judge?
I honestly love every competition, they are all exciting and all different. If I have to mention one, it would be Dudince, Slovakia. When competing, I won the first 20km edition for women, I also competed there in a European Cup, and continued the following years with judging. It is also a good qualification event for 50 km and 20 km with a good, chilly weather every year.

14. Is being a judge at the Olympics a dream of yours?
Of course, it is! This is the top. I missed it, when competing, so I am waiting for the opportunity.

15. During a race do you actually look only at feet all the time?
I really do. Sometimes I have to look at the bib numbers, though, to make notes. This is not our job, but let me tell you a secret: I also like to notice the best, perfect race walking styles, just for myself. I think, we should give an award for it too, for the best style, on all the judges’ votes in every big competition.

16. Do you feel bad when you disqualified someone?
Although I was never disqualified myself, absolutely yes! I feel for them. But I more care about the others, who can finish their race in a fair game. This is not easy to attain the fastest speed with still a fair technique. There is a thin line between still good and not ok. I think most of the disqualified race walkers do not “cheat” for purpose, they try their best, it is just not enough.

17. Without giving names, what’s the worst reaction of an athlete you remember, after getting disqualified?
I had no bad experience so far from the athletes. They also know, that judging is a team work, it needs at least 3 different judges’ DQ proposal to be eliminated. Bad reactions come more from spectators, but it is also rare.

18. How many countries have you travelled thanks to racewalking?
14 all in Europe.

Thank you very much for taking your time, Orsolya.


  • Favorite animal: My talking parrot, Ludwig
  • Zodiac: Libra
  • Idol: I look up to every “clean” athlete who works hard towards his/her goal, and stands up after each failure.
  • Profession: Psychology
  • Hobby: Reading, listening and playing music, all kind of sports
  • PB 20km: 1:41’46”
  • PB 10km: 48’51”

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