To Henry Laskau, a reflective, bandy-legged, 41-year-old New Yorker, walking is not so much a way of getting somewhere as a way of life. For the past 11 years, as America's foremost competitive walker, Laskau has, by shuffling queerly along in relative obscurity, won more national championships—43—than any amateur athlete in the history of the United States.
It has always troubled Laskau that Americans have not taken kindly to walking races, ignoring them on the one hand and hooting at them on the other. He is resigned to the former. "Maybe it's a combination of circumstances," he says. "You can't rush into walking. You must be patient. Besides, too many of us would rather ride in a car than even stroll, much less walk." But it is the ridicule that really hurts. He feels that walking has been sabotaged by hip-wigglers, whose contortions he condemns esthetically and athletically, and by the oldtimers who insist on strutting their feeble stuff before the newsreel cameras. Says Laskau: "The public shouldn't laugh, because the wigglers don't know what they're doing. As for the men over 45, they have no business being in there. They only huff, puff, and shake and make a spectacle of the sport."
Not one to become a huff-puff-and-shaker, Henry Laskau retired the other day, after winning the 3,000-meter walk at Israel's Maccabiah Games, in favor of coaching younger men.
"Walking is not a diversion," Laskau pointed out. "It is a difficult event which demands top coordination and stamina." Walking, indeed, is a trying business. The rules dictate that the knees must be locked, and that one foot always must be in contact with the ground. To achieve the classic style, Laskau advises aspirants to "Walk heel and toe. Then make believe you're pulling on ropes with your arms. I'd say it requires more coordination than running."
Laskau is qualified to know. He was, in his native Germany and for a time in the States, a run-of-the-mill distance runner, until a walker teammate on New York's 92nd Street YMHA squad watched him heel-and-toe a lap and told him to forget about running the mile. "You're a real walker," the teammate said. "I predict you'll be national champ within a year." Laskau was.
Besides his projected coaching duties, Laskau works as a traffic manager for a Manhattan export firm and lives in Mineola, L.I. with his wife Hilde and their two young sons. The Laskaus met and married when members of the same track team; Hilde gave up the 75-yard dash to raise a family. "Some persons ask me how I caught her if she sprinted and I walked," says Laskau, "but I was running when I met her."
The champ has left
The pit and bout;
A pullet passed—
He chickened out.
—A. R. FONTENOT