Friday, September 30, 2005

 

The History of Nordic Walking - A Clarification

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In a previous posting on this Blog I outlined the History of Nordic Walking. Most Nordic Walking websites state that Nordic Walking began in Finland in 1997 but there are counter claims that Nordic Walking originated in the USA in the 1980's. So which claim is correct?

Here I present the Facts, the Claims and the Proof - I will let you decide for yourself...

Fact: The origin of the name 'Nordic Walking' can be traced back to 1997. It was in this year that Finnish ski equipment manufacturer 'Exel' launched their first specially designed fitness walking poles. The poles included a specially designed wrist straps which was to be key to the technique used to this day by millions of Nordic Walkers across the world.

Fact: In year 2000 'Exel' launched the International Nordic Walking Association (INWA). This was a shrewd exercise in marketing. Exel, quite understandably wanted to market their poles across the world. However, how can you market a concept that in most countries few people had heard of ?

The answer was simple; Exel / INWA would launch an instructor training program and roll it out across the world. The instructors would teach people to Nordic Walk, the people would then need to buy Nordic Walking poles and INWA / Exel instructors would recommend Exel poles.

The plan worked which is why Exel / INWA can take much of the credit for the world wide success of Nordic Walking today.

Claim: Exel / INWA state that the origins of Nordic Walking as an exercise form can be traced back to Finland in the early 1980's. I have yet to see evidence proving this claim.

Claim: It has also been claimed that the routes of Nordic Walking go back to Nordic Skiers in Finland, who used their ski poles during summer snow free training as long ago as the early part of the 20th century. However it is unlikely that such activity was restricted to Finland

Fact: In 1988 an American by the name of Tom Rutlin launched the first specially designed fitness walking poles with rubber tips for use on an asphalt surface. Tom called his new exercise method - Exerstriding.

Proof: I have copies of press articles going back as far as 1988 featuring Tom Rutlin and Exerstriding. This includes an article in The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin, USA) - dated December 13th 1988 titled - 'Exerstriding a workout for everyone'. I also have a copy of an article from the German edition of Esquire Magazine from July 1989 which states - Exerstriding is the new sport from the USA.

Claim: Tom Rutlin claims that shortly after the article appeared in Esquire in 1989, that a representative from Exel had a meeting with him. This was 8 years prior to the launch of the first Exel Nordic Walking poles. Tom says that Exel have since claimed to have no knowledge of this meeting.

Note: I am aware of a suggestion that in 1995 two Finnish students came up with the idea of fitness walking with specially designed poles whilst doing research at a university. However, I have seen no evidence of this claim. However, this was still 7 years after Tom Rutlin launched his fitness walking poles and concept in the USA.

In summary:

From the hard evidence available to me at this time (note I use the word evidence), it is clear that the term 'Nordic Walking' originated in Finland in 1997, as did fitness walking poles with specially designed wrist straps that we know as Nordic Walking poles.

Note: Exerstrider poles do not have wrist straps... I will discuss this in one of my next postings.

However, it is equally clear that the concept of fitness walking with specially designed walking poles originated in the USA and that in 1988 Tom Rutlin was marketing the concept under his Exerstrider brand name.

As Tom Rutlin points out, Exel / INWA actually define Nordic Walking as 'fitness walking with specially designed poles', the exact concept that Tom launched in the USA in 1988.

I guess the question is - Should Tom Rutlin's role be recognised in the 'Official History of Nordic Walking' ?

Before you answer that question bear in mind that Nordic Walking is simply the 'generic' name most widely used to describe fitness walking with specially designed poles. It is not a trade mark or method exclusive to Exel / INWA.

Note: There are differences in both technique and pole design between 'Nordic Walking' and 'Exerstrider Method Nordic Walking' that I will discuss in another posting soon.

Comments:
Should Tom Rutlin's role be recognised ? I would say yes, If Tom hadn't started his Exerstride method,i wouldn't be doing it now!I just turned over 1000 miles this year,starting in March 05- im completly satisfied with exerstriding and have helped others get started,Thanks to Tom.
 
I first heard about walking with fitness poles from Tom Rutlin at the American Volkssport Association national convention in the 1990's. He is a good evangelist for the sport.
 
Maybe I'm biased since I'm from Madison, WI and currently living in Helsinki, but from what I've read of the history, it seems Tom should be recognized. Please realize that I only got to this site (and the site with the first four chapters of your book) by Googling "Nordic Walking, Helsink Finland" and then "Nordic Walking, Madison Wisconsin," becauase I would like to find some training in both places (we leave Finland at the end of December). Any recommendations? Perhaps Tom Rutlin when we get back to Madison?
 
Maybe I'm biased since I'm from Madison, WI and currently living in Helsinki, but from what I've read of the history, it seems Tom should be recognized. Please realize that I only got to this site (and the site with the first four chapters of your book) by Googling "Nordic Walking, Helsink Finland" and then "Nordic Walking, Madison Wisconsin," becauase I would like to find some training in both places (we leave Finland at the end of December). Any recommendations? Perhaps Tom Rutlin when we get back to Madison?
 
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