After two successive world bronze medals, Alex Schwazer finally wins global gold in the 50km walk (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Sesto San Giovanni, Italy

Kaniskina, Borchin and Schwazer lead star-packed fields in Sesto San Giovanni – IAAF Race Walking Challenge PREVIEW

The 52nd edition of the Coppa Città di Sesto Race Walking meeting, the fourth leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge 2009, will have a special significance this year as it is the 30th time that Sesto San Giovanni holds the women’s race. To celebrate this special anniversary the passionate local organizers of the Coppa Città di Sesto will hold a series of initiatives in the week leading to the famous walking Race on Friday 1 May, the Workers’ Day Festivity.

The competition reads as the “Who’s Who” of world race walking with one of the best fields ever assembled. The entire podium of the Beijing Olympic Games will feature in the 20 km women’s race with Russian reigning Olympic and World champion Olga Kaniskina, silver medallist Kjersti Plätzer from Norway and bronze medallist Elisa Rigaudo from Italy. This is the perfect way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the women’s race in Sesto.

The men’s race will not be less impressive with both reigning Olympic gold medallists Valeriy Borchin from Russia (20 km) and Alex Schwazer from Italy (50 km), 20 km European champion and World silver medallist Francisco Fernandez, local hero Ivano Brugnetti, Athens 2004 Olympic champion in the 20 km, Erik Tysse, fifth in both the Olympic Games in Beijing and in the World Championships in Osaka in the 50 km and Italian hope Giorgio Rubino, fifth in the 20 km in Osaka.

“The Sesto race can be read as the re-match of Beijing but also a preview of the World Championships in Berlin. It’s a true spring World Championship,” said Antonio La Torre, the lifetime coach of Ivano Brugnetti.

Kaniskina riding wave of momentum to Sesto - women’s race

Kaniskina comes to Sesto for the first time as a reigning 20 km walking race Olympic champion. The Russian scored two unopposed wins in Osaka and Beijing dominating the races from the early stages. Kaniskina is in impressive form this year as shown by her win in the Chinese leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Wuxi where she clocked 1:28:00.

Kaniskina seems to be the clear favourite in Friday’s race where she will face Kjersti Plätzer and Elisa Rigaudo in a true re-match of Beijing. Plätzer won last year’s Sesto race and is looking to go to the podium of the Italian race for the eighth time in her very long career. She won twice in the northern Italian competition in 2002 and 2008, finished second in 2003 and 2007 and third in 2000, 2001 and 2004. The Norwegian won the first two legs of this year’s Challenge in Chihuahua (Mexico) and in Rio Major (Portugal) and the Santa Eulalia 10 km race in Spain which was valid for the IAAF Race Walking Challenge and leads the current IAAF circuit ranking.

Elisa Rigaudo, reigning Olympic and European bronze medallist, made her debut this year in Chihuahua where she finished third and then continued her season with a win in the Italian Grand Prix in Pescara where she clocked her 10 km PB of 42:39.9 in mid-April. Rigaudo won the Sesto race in 2004 in the year of her overall win of the IAAF Walking Challenge. The Olympic bronze medal in Beijing gave the Italian walking star extra motivation and Sesto could be a perfect race where she can attack Betty Perrone’s 1:27:09 national record. 

The field is completed by Claudia Stef from Romania, second in Sesto in 2004 and 2006 and overall Challenge winner in 2006; 2008 IAAF World Cup silver medallist Tatyana Sibileva; and sisters Tatyana and Evdokiya Korotkova, all from Russia; three more Olympic top-eight walkers of Beijing 2008 like Beatriz Pasqual from Spain (sixth), Olive Loughnane from Ireland (seventh) and Ana Cabecinha from Portugal (eighth); Vera Santos, third at the 2008 World Cup in Cheboksary and second on home soil in Rio Major behind Plätzer this year; and Ines Henriquez, both from Portugal (second in the current Challenge ranking thanks to third place in Rio Major and second place in Chihuahua); Sabine Zimmer-Krantz (eighth at the World Championships in Osaka) and Kristina Saltanovic from Lithuania (fourth in Rio Major in 2009).

Men’s race - Borchin vs. Schwazer in battle of Beijing champions

Valeriy Borchin comes to Sesto with a recent win in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Wuxi in 1:19:31 in his bag. With his Olympic triumph in Beijing in the 20 km Borchin crowned a perfect 2008 season in which he finished second in the 20 km walking race in the IAAF World Cup on home soil in Cheboksary and walked the distance in 1:17:55 in Adler.

The Sesto 20 km event reads as a mouth-watering race between the two Olympic champions from Beijing Valeriy Borchin and 50 km champion Alex Schwazer who has become an italian sports star since his Beijing triumph in a new olympic record of 3:37:09.

Schwazer is not a 20 km specialist but he showed good form in the Italian Grand Prix in Pescara where he took a very narrow win over Giorgio Rubino (fifth at the World Championships in Osaka over the 20 km distance) in the 10 km race in 41:01. Rubino will be also in the field and is looking to confirm his recent progress to 1:19:37 for second place in Rio Major which makes him the third best walker in history in Italy behind Olympic champions Maurizio Damilano and Ivano Brugnetti. Rubino has now moved to the Walking School of Saluzzo to be trained by Sandro Damilano, the “guru” of walking race with 44 Olympic, World and European medals won with his athletes during his coaching career.

Brugnetti will make his outdoor debut following his Italian indoor title in the 10 km in Turin this winter and a training stint in Namibia. Brugnetti won the Olympic title in the 20 km in Athens and the World title in the 50 km in Seville 1999 but could never win in Sesto during his long career in front of his friends and fans in the town where he trains every day. Last year Brugnetti finished runner-up behind Osaka reigning World champion and now retired Jefferson Perez and then went on to finish fifth in Beijing nine seconds off the Olympic bronze medal.

Francisco Javier Fernandez from Spain, European Champion in Gothenburg 2006 in the 20 km and triple World silver medallist over this distance from 2003 to 2007, has recently produced an impressive performance in the 50 km clocking 3:41:02 at the Spanish Race Walking Championships in San Pedro del Pinatar. The Spanish walking star then went on to win in Santa Eulalia over the 10 km. Fernandez, who is coached by walking race legend Robert Korzeniowski, won the IAAF Race Walking Challenge on home soil in Murcia in September 2008.

Norway will be represented by Erik Tysse (the younger brother of Kjersti Plätzer), Olympic and World fifth placer in the 50 km and winner in Sesto in 2007 and by Trond Nymark, third at the 2008 World Cup in Cheboksary and winner in the 50 km race in Chihuahua. Also in the star-studded field will be Germany’s André Höhne, fourth at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki (he is the son of Christoph Höhne, Olympic champion in Mexico City 1968 in the 50 km), Jesus Sanchez from Mexico, second in the 50 km race in Chihuahua and fifth in the 20 km in Rio Major this spring and 2006 European 20 km bronze medallist Joao Vieira from Portugal (second in Sesto in 2006).

To mark the special 30th anniversary of women’s walking race in Sesto san Giovanni, a special commemorative book “Women’s walking race (1980-2009) and Sesto San Giovanni” will be presented on Wednesday 29 April. 

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF