The elite of world race walking will lineup for the 20th IAAF World Race Walking Cup next weekend, 12 – 13 October 2002 in Torino, Italy.
As far as the main contenders in the men’s 20k and 50km races are concerned they will be grateful that there is one notable absentee, the outstanding walker from the last five years, perhaps even all-time, Poland’s Robert Korzeniowski.
The treble Olympic gold medallist, World and European champion as well as World record holder has decided to sit out walking's own championships which is not a great surprise.
This is the latest in a calendar year the World Cup has been held in the history of the competition, and the 34 year-old Korzeniowski and a number of others would normally be using October and the rest of the autumn to recharge batteries after an arduous summer.
In fact, there will only be one of the three champions ready to defend their crown from Mezidon '99, the last World Walking Cup. Neither Bernardo Segura from Mexico or China's Liu Hongyu are going to Torino for the 20k men or women's races but Sergei Korepanov plans to tread in the footsteps of the great Christophe Hohne, Raul Gonzales and Carlos Mercenario and defend the 50k title.
Little has been heard of the Kazakstani since he won in the small French town three years ago, but he posted a nippy 3:52:19 earlier this year, and although the other super 'K' won't be in Italy, it leaves the door open for a surprise winner.
Aleksey Voyevodin may have been a distant second behind Korzeniowski when the latter re-wrote the record book in Munich to take European gold in August but the Russian still finished in 3:40:16 to post the second best time of the year.
Other contenders for top spot will be Aigars Fadejevs (Latvia), former world champion German Skurygin (Russia), and Edgar Hernandez from Mexico who dramatically passed Fadejevs in the last 100 metres for a World bronze in Edmonton last year.
Passionate home support is likely to be reserved for Erica Alfridi in the women’s 20km. Bronze in Munich, the 34 year-old has played the bridesmaid for a long time, and possibly with one race too many in the legs of Olimpiada Ivanova or Yelena Nikolayeva, the Russian duo who took gold and silver ahead of her at the Europeans, it maybe the Italian’s turn to dent the Russian dominance of the Women's 20k.
However, Ivanova has won the last two majors with some ease and it might take a bad day or the judges to remove her from the head of the field.
If she does falter, the luck of the Irish could make for a memorable pasta party washed down with Guinness.
Gillian O'Sullivan has confidently crept up the rankings and just missed out on a Munich medal, finishing fourth. She has the technique to satisfy the judges and if she is suitably motivated following the European championships, and could make her first trip to a medal ceremony.
The Chinese and Spanish will probably have something to say about that, especially in the former's case as they seem to turn out a practically new team of talented unknowns at each walking cup.
The Men's 20k is always a case of keeping one eye on the DQ board and one on the race especially as an expected front man has done a Korzeniowski and given the race a miss.
Spain’s Francisco Fernandez, the world record holder, motored in a minute ahead of his nearest adversary at Munich to take the continental title and was milking the applause of the crowd long before Vladimir Andreyev hove into view, but the Spaniard will not be shifting into fourth gear in the home town of Fiat.
That leaves a traffic jam of walkers all around the 79-80 minute mark which will include Andreyev and the entire Russian team, Italian Marco Giungi who has stepped down from 50k, and another Irish hope, Robbie Heffernan – 8th in Munich.
Jefferson Perez has also hit form again after a difficult couple of years since his memorable Olympic gold for Ecuador in Atlanta six years ago.
Spare a thought for the fledgling nations of Ghana, Egypt and the sole walker from Fiji making his debut in the World Cup. 21 year-old Manohara Maharaj may not have a medal in mind, but at least the tropical paradise will have contributed to the increasing global nature of the event since the very first Lugano Cup was contested just across the border 41 years ago.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF