This time last year Kjersti Platzer had to call it a day half way through the 20km IAAF Race Walking Challenge finale in Saransk.
If the double Olympic silver medallist does it again in the 2008 edition in Murcia on Sunday (21) morning, the removal of her race number should also remove $15,000 from her bank balance and her current first place in the final standings.
The only woman who can catch the superlative Norwegian in the southern Spanish city’s centre is Athanasia Tsoumeléka – and then only by one point provided the Greek Olympic gold medallist from 2004 comes second at least.
First place is worth 14 points, second 12, and Tsoumeléka is 11 points behind Platzer. The overall winner will pick up $30,000; the runner-up is worth $15,000. Therefore, no prizes for assuming the 36-year-old Norwegian will go through the finishing line along the Gran Via no matter what.
Tysse, Tallent poised to challenge - Men's race
Brother Erik Tysse also quit in Saransk when the race for first was finely balanced between he and Australian Luke Adams.
This time the men’s 20k is no less intriguing.
Mexico’s Eder Sanchez heads the consistent Tysse by a mere two points, with Jared Tallent and Jefferson Perez a further two points behind the leader.
The first two look vulnerable to a late challenge for the big bucks and a relegation to the minor placings.
Australian Tallent was the surprise package of the Olympic walks winning silver and bronze, while Perez hopped back on to the podium to collect 20k silver 12 years after the Ecuadorean won Olympic gold in Atlanta.
Sanchez secured two earlier wins in the Challenge this year, but could only watch the leaders walk away from him in Beijing as he trailed in a lowly 15th, and a distant two minutes-plus behind Perez.
Tysse also walked both Olympic races like Tallent. But it was the same tough programme in the World Championships in Osaka that forced the Norwegian to the side of the road when it caught up with him 12 months ago.
If he’s recovered, and if he withstands another battering from the expected 29-degree heat, Tysse will be up there. If not, cue the charge from behind.
It would also be a belated wedding gift for Tallent to be among the dollars. His new wife, fellow Australian Olympian Claire Woods, jokingly complained one of them had to stay home and earn some money. A superlative performance in Murcia may earn the new Mrs. Tallent a few days off.
Behind Platzer and Tsoumeléka, heated battle for third in women’s contest
The fight for overall third on the women’s list is an equally nip-and-tuck affair.
Six points separate four walkers, although Vera Santos, currently holding the spot, is in fine form following the Portuguese’s conversion to full time training this year.
Right behind her is Claudia Stef looking for an improvement on last year’s sixth, and Ireland’s Olive Loughnane can’t complain in a year that saw her improve her PB by some way.
14 carry Spanish hopes
On home soil there’s hope for 14 Spanish entries – the highest of whom is Juan Manuel Molina in fifth place in the Challenge top ten.
Any cheque Francisco Fernandez gets on Sunday will be smaller by comparison with the others, but his entry has also raised the ante.
‘Paquillo’ was meant to have been a sure thing for a medal in Beijing, but the World Champion and World Cup winner couldn’t go with the pace when it mattered.
It might be a small consolation, but a first here in front of adoring fans would go along way to salvaging some pride in a country that’s no stranger to walking winners.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF