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Parade of champions on tap as Race Walking Challenge resumes in Rio Maior

Susan Feitor leads home a surprise team title for Portugal - women's 20km, Miskolc, Hungary (Tim Watt)Susan Feitor leads home a surprise team title for Portugal - women's 20km, Miskolc, Hungary (Tim Watt) © Copyright

Rio Maior, PortugalEcuador's Jefferson Perez, three times IAAF world 20km Race Walk champion, Olympic 2004 20km champion Athanasia Tsoumeleka, and local heroes Susana Feitor and João Vieira are among the key entrants of Saturday's (5-Apr) 17th edition of the Rio Maior Walking Grand Prix,  the second leg of the 2008 IAAF Race Walking Challenge.

In the walking capital of Portugal, Rio Maior (birthplace of the major athletes in the country), are expected some of the great names in international race walking, with a total pack of about 100 competitors from 19 countries.

Strong men’s field

As mentioned, in the men’s event the favorite is Ecuador’s Jefferson Perez - until this hour, Italian Ivano Brugnetti hasn’t confirmed his presence yet - the three times 20km IAAF World Champion, second in 2006 IAAF World Race Walking Cup and 4th at 2004 Olympic Games, and he expects great performances from the men who arrived before him in the inaugural stage of 2008 IAAF Race Walking Challenge, in Mexico, where he achieved the 5th place: Spaniard Juan Molina (5th in 2004 Olympic Games, 2nd in Rio Maior in 2003) who was second in Chihuahua; Norway’s Erik Tysse (also 3rd in Rio Maior last year); and another man from Ecuador, Rolando Saquipay, fourth in the Mexican city. Perez is trying to assist his compatriots to achieve entry to the Beijing Olympic Games.

But the field has other great names as Tunisia's Hatem Ghoula, winner of Africa's first global medal in race walking (third in Osaka 2007); Italy’s Alessandro Gandellini, winner in Rio Maior in 2004; Alex Schwazer, the bronze medalist in the 2005 and 2007 IAAF World Championships; the Russian Illya Markov, winner in 1999, second in 2006, also the World (1999) European (1998), and Olympic silver medalist (1996); and the Portuguese João Vieira, bronze medalist in the 2006 European Championship, who won in Rio Maior in 1997 and collected three more second place finishes.

Olympic champion returns while Feitor hopes to impress on home turf

In the women's field there is a special role for Athanassia Tsoumeleka of Greece. The 2004 Olympic Champion returns to Portugal for the second time after her triumph in Athens. But she will face a tough opposition from Norway's 2000 Olympic runner-up Kjersti Platzer, winner in Mexico in 2007 and 2008 and last year’s Rio Maior runner-up. Home favourite Susana Feitor of Portugal, the 2005 World championships bronze medallist and winner in Rio Maior from 1993 to 1999, is aiming for a return to her best days, and will be a major factor.

On the other hand we have to count Australia’s Jane Saville, the bronze medalist in the 2004 Olympic Games who was 3rd in Rio Maior in 2005 and 2006; the Italy’s Elisa Rigaudo, winner in Rio Maior in 2004; the Portuguese Inês Henriques, 3rd in Mexico this year; Sabine Zimmer, the German champion; and Romania’s Claudia Steff, 2nd in 2006.

All these athletes are strong enough to produce great performances in Rio Maior, as we expect great weather conditions. The circuit is designed in 1 km turns, around the major city park. Thousands of spectators are expected to line the route of one the the major events in the region.

António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF