Some of the world’s best ever race walkers will visit Rio Maior, in Portugal, next Saturday (9). A raft of World, Olympic, World Cup and European winners have confirmed their presence at 20th International Grand Prix Race Walking, which is an IAAF permit race as part of the 2011 IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
The men’s 20km boasts three of the top Russian exponents of the discipline, reigning World and Olympic champion Valeriy Borchin (PB: 1:17.38), 2010 European gold medallist Stanislav Yemelyanov (PB: 1:19:43), and Sergey Kirdyapkin, 2005 and 2009 World 50km champion who has a 20km personal best of 1:24:38.
Taking on such a formidable trio will be Slovak’s 2010 World Cup 50km winner Matej Toth whose 20km fastest is 1:20:53. Toth was the recent winner of the 50km in Dudince (3:39:46) a race which counts toward the overall points standings in the Race Walking Challenge.
However, at the 20km distance it is perhaps the Mexican squad headed by World championships bronze medallist Eder Sanchez (PB: 1:18:34), Omar Zepeda (1:22:36), Cristian Berdeja (1:19:22) and Horácio Nava (1:22:52), which will offer the Russians their greatest threat.
Other great performers on the start list include Ireland’s Robert Heffernan (1:20:54), German André Höhne (1:20:00) and Spain's 41-year-old veteran Jesús Ángel García Bragado (1:23:00) who has won more major medals at 50km than most athletes could ever dream of attaining in a career.
Last but not least, Portugual’s João Vieira (1:20:09), the 2010 European 20km bronze medallist, will be competing in his home town, and with the support of the public might just pull-off a surprise.
Everyone faces another opponent in Rio Maior, the extreme heat and to help the organisers have postponed the start by half an hour in order to seek cooler conditions for the competitors.
The world’s greatest walker Russian Olga Kaniskina, the reigning World, Olympic and European champion at 20km, whose personal best is 1:24.56, was one of the first stars to confirm her presence at this famous race walking meeting.
The town of Rio Maior, with its high performance training centre (track and field facilities, pavilion and pools), and also a school of sports, has been internationally very well known since the 1980’s, as its where the great local race walking specialist Susana Feitor grew up and trained to become the 1990 World Junior champion.
Now 36, Feitor (PB: 1:27.55), will again be at this meeting, where she has taken victories six times. Third in the Race Walking Challenge event in Chihuahua, Mexico last month, Feitor, as well as Kaniskina, will face the opposition of compatriot Inês Henriques (PB: 1:29:36), the Chihuahua winner and 2011 national 20km Race Walking road champion, and another Portuguese Vera Santos (PB: 1:28:14), who was second in Chihuahua and is the reigning Rio Maior titleholder.
Another top Portuguese race walker on show will be Ana Cabecinha (PB: 1:27:46) third in 2011 National 20km Road Championship and fourth in the recent Lugano 20km meeting.
Germany’s Melanie Seeger (PB: 1:28:17), winner in Rio Maior in 2006 and fourth at the 2010 European Championships, Spain’s Beatriz Pascual (PB: 1:27:44), Maria José Poves (PB: 1:29:31) and Júlia Tacaks (PB: 1:30:14), Latvia’s Kristina Saltanovic (PB: 1:30:44) and Sonata Milusauskaite (PB: 1:30:26), and Ireland’s Olive Loughnane (PB: 1:27:45), winner in Dudince, last month, are the other athletes to watch.
António Manuel Fernandes, for the IAAF