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2011 IAAF Race Walking Challenge set to get going this weekend

Jared Tallent of Australia at a water station in the men's 50km race walk (Getty Images)Jared Tallent of Australia at a water station in the men's 50km race walk (Getty Images) © Copyright
Last year’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge saw athletes getting a slow boat to China  - or at least one that got them there in time for September's final.

Those anticipating a handsome payday this time had better start looking at timetables for planes, trains and automobiles – as well as boats – to La Coruna.

The northern Spanish town has the honour of the big showdown on 17 September – and whilst homegrown talent dominated Beijing four months ago – the vibe this time around is Europeans in both men and women’s categories will dominate.

The ninth IAAF Challenge gets under way this Saturday (19) in Hobart, Tasmania, with the Australian 20Km championships, and climaxes eight months from now having visited nine countries on the way.

Unknown teenager Wang Zhen walked a blistering junior 10k World record in 37:44 in Beijing, and was followed home 13 seconds later by teammate Zhu Yafei. Four more Asians filled the top 10 – plus two Australians in the form of Jared Tallent and Luke Adams.

It wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world.

Challenge points gained through the season is just the passport to a final where only those through the winning line pick up the spoils, and if it’s the other side of the world and the end of the season – the motivation for some is just that bit harder.

The Chinese have tended to bypass European Challenges in the past, so chances are the two $30,000 first prizes are headed west.

The Spanish stroll follows pretty soon after the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, so whether they like it or not, potential prizewinners are on the plane to Spain.

Maybe the medallists from Korea might be less hungry than those who followed in their wake? And therefore, disappointed walkers who are still in form might want it just that bit more by the time the gun goes in La Coruna.

Hobart’s waterfront is a Category C race where talented Jared Tallent, last year’s winner, is odds-on to win the men’s division again. Commonwealth champion and Britain’s number one, Johanna Jackson, also lines up, as do GB young hopes Tom Bosworth and Alex Wright – hoping this is the start of a journey that takes them to The Mall in London and the Olympic final in 18 months.

And for those wondering about the different categories – there are three.

Category A carries the most points, and there’s only one of those: the IAAF World Championship races themselves.

Category B has four contests. No strangers to IAAF Walk Challenges are Chihuahua in Mexico on 5 March, Rio Maior in Portugal on 9 April, and the Sesto San Giovanni in Italy on May Day. The new kid on the block is Taicang near Shanghai whose races are sandwiched between the others on 22 April.

And apart from Hobart, the other Category C races are Lugano in Switzerland on 20 March, Dudince in Slovakia on 26 March, and an Irish welcome in Dublin on 26 June.

Category A earns 20 points for the winners, Category B garners 12, and Category C, six – with a diminishing tally for those behind all the way down to the solitary digit earned by 12th place in Daegu.

A walker only needs to have competed in any three of these events to be in line for the money at La Coruna, so does it matter which races they do in order to get there?

Well, actually it does.

The top 15 going into the Coruna finals get all their travel and accommodation expenses paid. Three others at the IAAF’s discretion will get ‘wild card’ invitations.

Assuming no-one wants to empty their wallets paying for travel, hotel and food – as delightful as they might be in a Spanish September – piling up the points, and presumably prize money along the way, would make a 10k Challenge final extremely cost effective.

Paul Warburton for the IAAF