Australia has been ‘near but no cigar’ when it comes to topping a team podium at the 2010 IAAF World Race Walking Cup.
A second in the men’s 20km at La Coruna in 2006 was followed by a third in Cheboksary two years ago at the same distance – but it appears the green-and-gold vests stand their best-ever chance of collecting the top honour if they put all their eggs into the 50km basket at Chihuahua, Mexico over the weekend of 15/16 May for the 24th edition of the competition.
Not only do they have the resources to claim a first, first in the northern Mexican city – but in Jared Tallent they undoubtedly have a man in the best form of his life, and one capable of winning the individual title.
The 25-year-old started the year on home soil by notching a 20km personal best in Hobart last month in the first of the IAAF Challenge races of the year.
His margin over team-mate Luke Adams may have been nearly three minutes (79:15mins to 82:07) but Adams admits he’s undecided whether to do the 20km or 50km in Chihuahua.
He said: “My final plan for racing is still a work in progress – and I want a successful campaign in the IAAF Challenge as well as either the 20k or 50k in the World Walking Cup.”
Should the man who claimed a PB in Cheboksary over the shorter distance need a reminding shove towards the long haul – Australia also has Nathan Deakes back for the first time in nearly two years.
The one-time holder of the 50km World record hammered six out of the 10 laps in Hobart before feeling the blast of Tallent’s afterburners ahead of him.
Deakes dropped out at that point – but blowing away some of the cobwebs two years with a hamstring injury put there did the man from Geelong a power of good.
Both Tallent and Adams (50km PB: 3:43:39 – and significantly set at the IAAF Championships last August) will fancy their chances of heading Deakes in Mexico if all three are in the same race – but the latter will point to a pedigree only the very, very best can boast.
The 32-year-old set his superlative 3:35:47 for 50km in December 2006, only to see it bettered by Denis Nizhegorodov at the last World Race Walking Cup in May 2008.
And Deakes at his best has also walked 77:33 for 20km – a mere 17 seconds outside the current best set by Russia’s Vladimir Kanaykin, who most certainly won’t be in Chihuahua.
And after winning the 2007 IAAF World Championships 50km, Deakes’ memory banks will have logged what’s required to hold on in a top race when all about are feeling the strain.
Assuming he gets stronger as it gets closer to Chihuahua, and that Adams finally opts for the long walk, then Tallent in top-form will be the cement in a rock-solid Australian team victory.
It seems incredible that just two years in Cheboksary the man from Ballarat was a mere 10th in the 20km – but a fraction over three months later he was winning bronze in the Olympic 20km, and then went on to double-up by taking silver in the 50km, since when Tallent’s got married and played ‘catch-up’ on his career.
The women’s winner in Hobart was wife, Claire – so tying the knot has clearly done neither any harm – that and a shorter break at the end of last season for Jared.
He explained: “I had a big break after the Olympics and felt as though I was playing catch-up all year. In 2009 I only had one week off after the Challenge final in Russia and got back into training pretty quickly.”
“I've tried to build a big base for this season. I've also done a lot of work in the gym and this seems to also be paying off too.”
Tallent joked that at 25 he feels he’s playing the ‘old man’ against younger hopes like Mexico’s Eder Sanchez, Wang Hao from China, and Olympic champion Valeriy Borchin.
But an early indication of what damage the Australian can do in the 50km came when he posted 3:38:56 in Melbourne on 22 November 2009.
Not only was it another hefty slice off his PB – but it came off the back of less than six weeks training. And just in case his rivals might be reading this, maybe as they say when football results are about to be shown ahead of televised games, they should ‘look away now’.
“Since the 50km I have gone back to focusing on the 20km distance and have been chucking in an extra speed session per week,” he added.
“I start my build-up to the World Cup where I will be focusing on the 50km by training at home and then heading to Albuquerque in the USA for three weeks before the competition.”
Those who remember Glen Campbell’s famous song ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ will also recall that by the time the singer gets to Albuquerque in the second verse – the sweetheart he’s ditching will be working – she won’t be the only one hard at it in New Mexico.
And as a result of their labours, the ‘new’ in Mexico on 15 May should be a victorious Australian 50km men’s team.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF