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Why do some athletes cover their navels in the race walk?

Some Asian athletes follow a cultural tradition that caused a stir at the Tokyo Games and has been repeated at the worlds in Oregon.

Chinese race walkers in action.

The Tokyo 2020 women’s 20km race walk provided one of the more curious images from the Olympic Games and one that has been repeated at the World Championships in Oregon, with some athletes competing with their navels covered. Why do they choose to do this? The answer is steeped in culture and superstition.

Cultural beliefs

Asian athletes, especially those of Tibetan or Chinese heritage, share the culturally established belief that energy can be lost through the belly button, a superstition that extends to the idea that bad energy can even be absorbed through it. As such, many athletes from the region choose to cover the area with tape or a bandage.

There is also another theory that energy actually flows through the navel. Some athletes, in addition to wearing a covering, also employ an energy stone - a stone that, according to different cultures, acts as a positive energy magnet.

The chakra theory holds that the navel is the first part of the human body to be formed after the conception of the fetus and this is connected via the umbilical cord to the placenta and thus to the mother. As the baby is nourished through this, in some cultures it is believed that bad energy can also enter through the navel.

Race walks at the Oregon World Championships

The 20km race walks provided the first medals of the 2022 World Championships on the opening day, Friday 15 July. Japan’s Toshikazu Yamanishi took gold in the men’s event and Kimberly García of Peru won the women’s race.

Later this week, on Friday 22, the women’s 35km race walk will take place, with the men’s event scheduled to be held on the final day of competition, on Sunday 24 July.


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