Russia executed a clean swept every first place bar one at the 10th edition of the European Cup Race Walking, staged in the Slovak town of Dudince on Sunday (19), and the event was also the latest round of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
However, Yohann Diniz’s victory in men’s 50km event, the opening race of the day, suggests that The Frenchman may offer a challenge to home power at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow later this year.
Diniz, who seemed to spend almost as much time adjusting the iced sponges he frequently puts in his cap as he did taking liquid during the race on a day when temperatures soared close to 30 degrees, took the lead at 15km and never relinquished it, despite an unscheduled pit stop at 40km, to record his second win in the Cup to go with his earlier triumph in 2007 over 20km.
He had a disaster at the London 2012 Olympic Games and was likewise disqualified at the IAAF World Championships in 2011 but here he had few problems and picked up only one card, before posting a world-leading time of 3:41:08; with the rest of the podium filled by the Russians Mikhail Ryzhov and Ivan Noskov, who recorded 3:44.42 and 3:45:52 for second and third respectively.
“I was not afraid about Russians, I had my own race rhythm. In this heat to walk as well as I did, I have hopes of the World Championships, even against different Russians. I have to recuperate now, but this has given me plenty of confidence for Moscow,” said Diniz.
Thereafter, the CD player was permanently on ‘pause’ with the Russian national anthem loaded and ready for each medal ceremony.
The second race was an attempted tie between former IAAF World Youth Championship winner Pavel Parshin and his compatriot Nikolay Markov. It didn’t work, because although the roommates at the Saransk Walking Centre held hands on the line, the electronic timing split them in the junior men’s 10km with the nod going to Parshin in 41:14, Markov getting the same time and third taken by Italy’s Vito Minei, who walked the race of his life to come home in 41:27.
By contrast, the winner of the women’s 20km would have had to wait on the line for more than a minute before the Russian colleague and silver medallist came into sight.
Anisya Kirdyapkina was just one second off the world record in 2011, but the bronze medallist from that year’s World Championships in Daegu finally came good to win this race in 1:28:40, and by a comfortable margin from Vera Sokolova, the walker that at the time denied her the record.
"I had a goal before the race, which I achieved. I wanted to finish at least second out of the Russians, so now I will be a part of the next World Championships in Moscow in August. During the race, it was very hot and my head started to hurt, but I am so glad that I became successful here," said Kirdyapkina, with the first two Russians home clinching their place in their 2013 World Championships squad.
Sokolova on this occasion was 39 seconds behind as Russians filled all four of the top places in this particular race
However, Sokolova joined Kirdyapkina and the 2012 Olympic champion Yelena Lashmanova in the Russian team for this year's World Championships.
The men’s 20km was a first for Denis Strelkov as far as major wins go.
The Russian had to hang on by the skin of his teeth to withstand a late charge from both Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez and Slovakia’s 2010 IAAF World Race Calking Cup winner Matej Toth.
They were catching Strelkov with every stride over the last 500m on the 1km loop but just ran out of road in the end with Strelkov winning in 1:21:41.
Lopez was second just eight seconds behind while local favourite Toth took third place with 1:21.52 to much stomping and cheering.
“Two years ago, in this competition, I got it wrong when I was second in the 20km I kept going with the same programme and I didn’t do well in Daegu. I’ve learned. This time I take a bit of time off, and then start from the bottom again and build up to Moscow as if it were the start of the year again,” reflected Toth.
Exciting as that race was, the junior women’s 10k was as close to a sure thing as you will find in athletics with the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships gold medallist Ekaterina Medvedeva was away from the gun, but unlike in Barcelona last year, her fellow Russian Nadezhda Leontyeva failed to follow in her wake and was back more than a minute by the finish, with the pair recording 44:46 and 46:15 for the top two places on the podium.
It was also fitting that Russia, the world’s supreme walking power of recent times, should dominate at the only place in the world with a permanent monument to the sport.
Dudince inscribes on a stone column the winners of its annual 50km race, and although the spa town has only 900 permanent residents, it is mad keen on walking and, in return, more than a fair number of the disciplines exponents are keen on Dudince.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF