Sergey Kirdyapkin is aiming to become only the second man to defend this title after Robert Korzeniowski took World gold in the 50km Walk in Edmonton and Paris.
Kirdyapkin, a 27-year-old Russian, strolled away with the title two years ago to succeed the great Pole, leading in Helsinki from the fifth kilometre and crossing the line without receiving a warning. But the reigning champion has only competed once this year, over 35km in the Russian winter event, and cannot be certain of his form.
After filling the top two slots last time, Russia could well provide the third cleansweep of the championships and the first ever in this event, such is their dominance of the world’s leader board.
Aleksey Voyevodin, the 2005 silver medallist, is in the squad again after finishing fourth in the European Cup in Leamington Spa, Britain, in May in 3hr 41min 42sec, while Denis Nizhegorodov, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist, who once set an unratified world record, will also be in the hunt.
Nizhegorodov, the Russian champion and World No2, will also be joined by Vladimir Kanaykin, a former World Junior and World Youth champion, who will be keen to complete the medal set with a senior gold. The 22-year-old is this year’s Russian 20km champion and beat Kirdyapkin in the winter 35km event before winning the European Cup.
The main challenge to Russia’s chances may come from the in-form Italian Alex Schwazer. The reigning bronze medallist, Schwazer broke the Italian record when he clocked 3:36:04 in Rosignano Solvay in February, the fastest time in the world. He is likely to finish strongly; two years ago he improved from eighth at half way to claim a medal.
Others to look out for include Trond Nymark, who finished just out of the medals in Helsinki and again at the European Championships in Gothenburg last year. The Norwegian, who was second in Leamington Spa and holds the fourth quickest time of the year, will be keen to break his major championship medal duck.
The Asian champion Zhao Chengliang is also in form, while his Chinese teammate Yu Chaohong will have eyes on a medal after finishing fourth at the Athens Olympics.
Then there’s the Spanish contingent, inlcuding the champion of 14 years ago, Jesus Angel Garcia. Garcia also took silvers in 1997 and 2001, but after disqualification two years ago, the 37-year-old will feel he has something to prove.
And don’t discount the official world record-holder Nathan Deakes, the Australian who has four Commonwealth Games titles to his name. He has only raced once this year, over 20km at La Coruna, but has prepared in the Tuscany region of Italy specially for Osaka.
This event always boasts a handful of athletics veterans and this year they come in the shape of Canadian record-holder Tim Berrett, walking in his ninth World Championships at the age of 42, Hungary’s Zoltan Czukor, who returns to the World Championships for the first time since 1999 at the age of 44, and Portugal’s Jorge Costa, the oldest walker in the field at 46.
Osaka 2007 News Team/mkb