CarloThe 22nd IAAF World Race Walking Cup takes place this weekend in La Coruña, Spain, 13 – 14 May. There will be two senior men’s races contested, the 20km and 50km, previews for which now follow:
If ever a race was set up for a home soil win it’s the 20km and Francisco Javier Fernandez.
The Spanish walker known as ‘Paquillo’ will toe the line at La Coruna with the third fastest time of 2006, and will have the kind of local support that swept Erica Alfridi to an Italian women’s win in 2002 and Li Ziwen to the top of the Beijing podium eleven years ago.
Fernandez has the added incentive of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge. If the Spaniard can win at the Cup then he will pip Russian Ilya Markov to the season series prize money and title.
Incredibly, Markov who won’t be walking in the Spanish port city after missing out in the Russian 35k champs that was the trial for his country’s 50k team. he has two second places and a first to lead the current Challenge standings, and so if Fernandez who has a win and a third place to his name, is victorious this weekend the Spaniard will win the Challenge by virture of having more victories in the season.
Markov has his sights set on the European Championships in September. And that could be the fly in the ointment for Fernandez’s challenge.
His coach, the great Robert Korzeniowski, has already revealed to the IAAF his man has readjusted his training so he will peak only for the majors. That said the Spaniard already has a speedy 1:18:33 to his credit this year.
He was beaten in that race in Yangzhou by Chinese sensation Li Gaobo who won’t be 17 until July 23 but the teenage prodigy will race the junior 10k this weekend.
If Fernandez is keeping his powder dry for Gothenburg, there are still plenty ready to zip along the scenic waterfront course.
2004 defending champion, Jefferson Perez is also World record holder, and a win in La Coruna will make it an amazing four World Cup wins for the popular Ecuadorean who has won every major honour.
Australia’s Nathan Deakes has opted for the 20km after his Herculean double-gold in the Commonwealth Games, and although Olympic champion Ivano Brugnetti has yet to show his talent at 20k in 2006, the Italian has proved his mental toughness to be there or thereabouts in a sprint showdown though he registered a DNF after pulling our after 10km in Sesto San Giovanni on 1 May.
If form is anything to go by, Russia will not only sweep to team victory in the 50km race – but could fill the first five places as well.
The country’s national 35k championships at Adler in February served as the selection race for La Coruna, and Russians there posted the best eight times for the distance in 2006.
The man to catch the eye should be 21-year-old Vladimir Kanaykin. Two years ago in Naumburg, the precociously talented walker was a literal street ahead in the junior 10k when he suffered the heartbreak of disqualification. At Adler he posted a world best time for 30k and then pushed on for his second world best at 35k in 2:21:31.
Even teammate Denis Nizhegorodov, the Olympic silver medallist, was more than three minutes behind. Russia also has the defending World Walking Cup champion in Aleksey Voyevodin, who will become the first long-distance man to make it three in a row if he walks as well as he did in Turin and Naumburg.
Sergey Kirdyapkin will want to deny him after he beat Voyevodin to the gold medal at the World Championships in Helsinki last year.
If there is a team capable of upsetting the Russian applecart, it’s China. Zhao Jianguo hacked a massive 5:58 off his PB when he broke the tape in Wajima on 16 April to lead the best 50km times for 2006 - and the 18-year-old isn’t even on his team’s entry list, such is the depth of Chinese talent.
However, Yu Chaohong has made it on the plane to Spain after his fine silver medal effort behind Voyevodin two years ago, and the Chinese is backed up by a squad of athletes who have the pedigree to push the Russians close.
In an event where even the most talented are on their feet for a minimum three-and-a-half hours, warm weather could be a factor in the closing stages when the sun is highest.
Walking on home soil for the first time in six World Cups is former World champion Jesus Angel Garcia. The Spaniard may be 36 now, but with a home crowd behind him and others wilting in front of him, Garcia is a good outside bet to rip up the form book.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF