Having secured the World title in Daegu in addition to their overall win in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge, Valeriy Borchin and Olga Kaniskina ended the year as the undisputable leaders of the discipline.
The winning pair at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge ambled slowly through the streets of La Coruna in September - it just happened to be the day after the races.
Olga Kaniskina and Valeriy Borchin were window-shopping. But had they fancied it, the Russian champions could have bought the window.
IAAF World and Challenge winners inside 20 days, they were now $180,000 richer. And there was an air of inevitability over the double, double victory once Russia got interested in the 2011 series.
The mighty reds have tended towards their own thing in the past, so any nod at a share of the $200,000 Challenge pot was more chance than design.
But when Borchin stopped his compatriot on her way to start line for the previous evening’s 10km, it was doubtful Kaniskina was getting a good-luck message.
Having just breezed the men’s race, Borchin was probably wondering out loud whether they had a big enough rucksack for the prizegiving.
As a pair, they’ve dominated the scene since the Beijing Olympics, and Kaniskina won the IAAF Championship gold in Osaka the year before that.
The only major races neither has won since were the 2010 IAAF World Walking Cup, and that’s because neither entered.
In La Coruna, both made sure they stayed in the pack for the first 6km so the judges could remind themselves of two impeccable styles.
But preliminaries out of the way, the pair lit the afterburners to make sure the rest were chasing second.
Borchin (38:50) creviced open a gap over defending champion Zhen Wang to win by six seconds. However, the surprise package up and down the one-kilometre harbour loop in the northern Spanish city was Joao Vieira.
The Portuguese had taken it on from the gun, and although eventually passed by the first two and Chinese Yafei Chu, Vieira held on for fourth in a nippy 39:10.
The first 10 were easily under 40 minutes, with a final 100-metre sprint costly to Australian Jared Tallent.
Looking to nail eighth after a tough IAAF Championships 50km in Daegu, there was little he could do when countryman Luke Adams sensed Tallent’s fatigue, and hammered past alongside Mexico’s Ever Palmer Olivares.
Hong Liu also gave it everything she had in an eighth kilometre (4:03) of the women’s race, two seconds quicker than the men’s opening salvo.
But try as she might, Liu failed to shake off her nemesis, and Kaniskina hit fifth gear to forge an 18-second gap by the line.
A fast-finishing Melanie Seeger held sway over Portuguese Ana Cabecinha in the twilight for a fitting backdrop to the 34-year-old German’s second podium in a major championship.
Seeger’s delighted leap in the air said much about a career of nearly not quite finally paying dividends.
Walkers hoping for a share of the prize money, like Seeger, needed the entry ticket of competing in three events designated A, B or C between the Hobart, Australia meet on February 19 and La Coruna.
The solitary A race was the Daegu World Championships, with four each from the B and C category offering more prize money for those at the sharp end.
It was a different story for Tallent when he won the Hobart C 20km (1:20:19) by 41 seconds over Adams. Wife Claire Tallent had much more of a dawdle by the dock (1:33:38) to finish 1:30 ahead over a largely domestic field. The first B men’s races also went the way of the hosts in March.
Little known Jose Leyver upset hometown boy Horacio Nava in Chihuahua for the second time to win the 50km: 3:52:33 to 3:54:38.
Nava had to settle for runner-up 12 months previously in the IAAF World Race Walking Cup. But there was one almighty sprint in Mexico as previous 20km winner Eder Sanchez made it by two seconds over the vastly improved Luis Fernando Lopez.
The Colombian’s recent strides in walking’s world saw him add silver to a fifth at the same city in the Cup. But if there is one country to claim collective improvement over the last three years it’s Portugal.
When it comes to team tussles, the green vests have shaken up the women’s status quo.
In Chihuahua, they filled the podium, with Ines Henriques showing fine early-season form to forge a 1:07 gap over Vera Santos, and stalwart Susana Feitor completing the places.
Largely absent from the European scene in the past, China made up for lost time in 2010.
In Lugano, a familiar duel between Wang and Chu produced the fastest 20km of the year at the time.
There was barely the width of a race number between them until the last 50 metres when Wang gained a single second advantage with both recording incredible negative splits of 54 and 53 seconds.
Team-mate Ding Chen was a distant third in 1:19:38 – still a fantastic time for March.
Liu, later to feature at both the World and women’s Challenge final, was untroubled to win by more than a minute.
Matej Toth proved the previous year’s surprise win in the World Walking Cup was no one-off when he won the Dudince 50km at the end of March in 3:39:46, nearly six minutes ahead of second. Unsurprisingly, it was a national record and all the better for being set on home soil.
Only two weeks later, Toth had a go at the Rio Maior A race over 20km. And although he notched a quickish 1:20:16, it was good only for fourth, with Borchin heading the field in Portugal to open his account in 1:18:55.
And where one goes, so does the other. Kaniskina got going after 8k to head a classy field and debut 2011 with a comfortable victory.
On the other side of the world 13 days later, a Chinese field lined up in Taicang, and the other inseparable pair, Wang and Chu once again duelled over 20km. This time, Wang got 15 seconds over his twin, but after stopping the watch at 1:18:30, it was no surprise.
Liu was the women’s 20km winner by more than a minute, and Tiangfen Si was a nippy first at 50km in 3:38:48, even if his 2km splits were up and down like a lift. The second was 8:27, the 14th 9:02, with a variety of everything else in between.
Beatriz Pascual finished second to Kaniskina in Rio Maior, and the Spaniard had to watch the Russian disappear into the distance yet again at another regular on the Challenge circuit: the Sesto San Giovanni in Italy.
The May Day celebrations were not lost on Borchin either when he again dipped under 1:20:00 to win by an eye-opening 2:28 from Japan’s Isamu Fujisawa – something akin to 650 metres.
The Russian’s brutal pace might also have had something to do with the high casualty rate: six DQ’s and 10 DNFs.
The Chinese presence in Europe was felt at the Dublin Grand Prix in June where the busy Liu got two minutes plus over national hero Olive Loughnane. And Wang claimed a more modest advantage over rising star Hassanine Sbei from Tunisia, who followed the Chinese trio home in Lugano.
The Borchin-Kaniskina double act topped the bill in Daegu at the IAAF World Championships, and those new shoes the Russian was eyeing in the La Coruna shop were but a swipe away from her healthy credit card balance.
Sadly, Kaniskina can beat the entire world of walking on her own terms, but not even she can make the shops open on Sunday.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF
Results – IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final
1. Valeriy BORCHIN (RUS) 38:43
2. Zhen WANG (CHN) 38:50
3. Yafei CHU (CHN) 39:07
4. Joao VIEIRA (POR) 39:10
5. Eder SANCHEZ (MEX) 39:14
6. Robert HEFFERMAN (IRL) 39:15
7. Isamu FUJISAWA (JPN) 39:19
8. Luke ADAMS (AUS) 39:46
9. Ever PALMA OLIVARES (MEX) 39:47
10. Jared TALLENT (AUS) 39:49
1. Olga KANISKINA (RUS) 42:39
2. Hong LIU (CHN) 42:57
3. Melanie SEEGER (GER) 43:09
4. Ana CABECINHA (POR) 43:15
5. Susana FEITOR (POR) 43:40
6. Beatriz PASCUAL (ESP) 43:49
7. Mª Jose POVES (ESP) 44:15
8. Ni GAO (CHN) 44:20
9. Ines HENRIQUES (POR) 44:28
10. Olive LOUGHNANE (IRL) 44:30