Portugal’s Susana Feitor took the World Championship bronze medal in the women's 20km Race Walk in Helsinki last summer in a time of 1:28:44.
The result was the culmination of a consistently successful 2005, in which she took second place in the Coppa Città di Sesto San Giovanni (Italy), fourth in the Grand Prix Internacional de Marcha Tijuana (Mexico), and a silver medal at the European Cup in Miskolc (Hungary). Her achievements for the season also gained her second place overall in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
This year Feitor, 31, opted out of competing in the first leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Mexico in March. "Since Helsinki I’ve tried to catch up on things at University, and started my training later this winter. Usually I aim to be in shape for the summer championships but also for the cups in the spring as they are important for my country as team competitions."
Unexpected win for Portugal last year
At Miskolc in May 2005 Feitor led the Portuguese team - also made up of Vera Santos, Maribel Goncalves, backed up by Ines Henriques - to a surprise team victory, ahead of Italy and Romania.
"Last year we were very strong. It will be very difficult but we will fight for the team award at La Coruña. Last year we beat some very strong teams such as Italy and Spain and the Russia team suffered a few DQs. The team are all very close in standard (all under 1:34:00 or 1:35:00) but it will be much harder at World Cup level with China and Mexico there too, but you can’t yet know who’s coming or who’s in shape."
Like many leading athletes, Feitor is currently training at altitude, her preference being the 2300m elevation of the Sierra Nevada in the south of Spain.
"My training is going well. I'm just keeping going step by step. I like it here - it’s close to Portugal, the people are nice, the food is similar to home and the language is easy for me."
"My preparation is a little different this year; a bit later so I hope to be in better condition later in the year at the European Championships, so I’m looking to catch up in time for my first big competition and be at a peak in La Coruña."
Though not yet in her best shape, Feitor finished sixth in her first race this season in Rio Maior, Portugal, on 1 April - the second leg of the 2006 IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
"Rio Maior was a beautiful fight. I thought I could do 1:31:00 - 1:32:00 and did 1:31:43 which shows things are working in the right way. My next competition will be at Sesto San Giovanni on 1 May where I hope to be a bit faster. The Europeans will be the most important competition this year but it's too early to predict a time."
Helsinki was a stepping stone
Feitor's first senior championship medal last year at the World Championships was a long time coming since her World Junior silver medal in 1994 and gold in 1990 - but in her long term plan it was ahead of schedule.
"For me, Helsinki was a stepping stone to Beijing, so a medal was a bonus. I'd hoped for a top-10 place. Top-8 was a major goal. I was one of 12 or so athletes that could win a medal - obviously Olimpiada Ivanova was way ahead, and the other Russians and Chinese were unpredictable."
"When I crossed the line I punched the track surface saying to myself ‘finally, after 15 years, and 11 as a senior I’ve achieved my goal’."
It also made up for an unhappy 2004. “I was injured for the Naumburg World Cup and was sick before the Olympics. Psychologically, it was a very difficult time for me."
Focusing on La Coruña
"But now I’m working well each day. I feel good and am focusing on La Coruña. You can only set personal goals not aim for places as you can’t control what other people do. I know I should be under 1:30:00 and if I’m relaxed, have good tactics and technique I could be under 1:29:00 which should give me a good placing."
Tim Watt for the IAAF