16 MAR 2012 General News

High expectations for host nation in Saransk - IAAF World Race Walking Cup

Sergey Bakulin en route to the 50Km Race Walk title in Daegu (Getty Images)Sergey Bakulin en route to the 50Km Race Walk title in Daegu (Getty Images) © Copyright

Short of lightning bolts – and Usain is not expected – Russia will plunder the IAAF World Race Walking Cup at will on the weekend of 12-13 May.


Amazingly, it took 23 editions before being hosted by one of the world’s heel-and-toe superpowers. But after the huge success in Cheboksary four years ago, their rivals in race walking a couple of hours to the east have earned their turn as well.


Saransk is home to Russia’s greats, and if they fill every podium spot in five races as well as all team honours, it will be no great surprise.


One might expect a country of 142 million to produce champions. After all, there are a lot of potential athletes to go round.


But China’s billion plus enjoys nothing like the same success. And the USA, 311 million and counting, are medal paupers by comparison with a solitary Olympic bronze 44 years ago to hang in their hall of fame.


But whereas large parts of the US mock the sport, Russia views the event as a means to produce glory and honour for the mother country.


Saransk centre walking chief Victor Chegin was amazed when he learned British exponents get verbal abuse at training, and his eyes opened the wider on discovering they also have to dodge the odd missile now and then.


But apart from attitude what Russia has over a lot of countries big and small, is a programme that hangs on to its junior talent and makes senior champions out of them as well.


The 2009 European junior champion Elmira Alembekova showed great form when she clocked a super-fast 1:25:27 to win the Russian Winter Walking Championships 20km in Sochi last month.


This was the same Alembekova who was a mere third in Cheboksary in 2008 as a 17-year-old.


Not far behind the Sochi winner came the 2011 European junior champion Yelena Lashmanova debuting at 20k for 1:26.30, while Irina Yumanova was a close third in 1:26:46, the later improving her personal best by almost three minutes.


Yumanova was second in Cheboksary at the last IAAF Cup on home soil, and the winter walks down by the Black Sea routinely post top times for the early part of the year, and this edition was no different with the first eight also filling the top nine on the current IAAF list.


Spaniard María José Poves at sixth, is a minor dam to the Russian flow after recording 1:28:15 earlier this month.


Another former junior great Stanislav Yemelyanov was likewise posting a warning to his non-Russian rivals in Sochi.


The 2008 IAAF World Junior champion clocked 1:18:29 – and he was merely fourth.


Ahead were Andrei Ruzavin (1:17:47), on his heels was Sergey Morozov 1:17:52, and third came Andrey Krivov, only four seconds the better of Yemelyanov.


At the longer 35k, the 2009 IAAF World Championship 50km gold medallist Sergey Kirdyapkin won in 2:25:41, with Mikhail Ryzhov second in 2:25:58 and Ivan Noskov third in 2:26:32 – any of which if chosen, would give the rest of the world a hard time in Saransk.


As fast as the seaside shuffle was, absent were the IAAF 50km World Champion from Daegu and the other two Russian winners last August.


Valeriy Borchin and Sergey Bakulin blew away the winter cobwebs with a showpiece indoors 5km in Moscow a week earlier, and the former won in 18:16.54 – just nine seconds outside the world record set by Mikhail Shchennikov in 1995.


50km winner Bakulin showed he is no slouch at the shorter distance to notch 18:26.82 and third. But sandwiched in between was 20km World record holder Vladimir Kanaykin with 18:17.13 as he and 20km IAAF World Champion Borchin mounted a ferocious last-lap sprint.


50km World record holder Denis Nizhegorodov was a relative slowcoach for 18:58.81 and sixth. But guess what? The first three lead the world indoor rankings for 2012.


There was a minor shock in the women’s 3km, when Russian goddess Olga Kaniskina failed to finish her first race as a senior.


The Olympic and double IAAF World Champion was treading on the heels of Anisya Kirdyapkina over the last lap in Moscow, but then veered dramatically off the track.


It was later discovered she was suffering from a heavy cold, but the pace set by the eventual winner might have had something to do with it. Kirdyapkina crossed in 11:44.10 – just four seconds shy of Claudia Stef’s World record.


Incidentally, Stef was second following Kaniskina’s demise in a distant 12:27.50.


Assume, that a Lemsip and a couple of Kleenex later, the Russian champion like all the others mentioned here are ready to blow away the opposition in Saransk and show the red production line is as well oiled as ever.


Paul Warburton for the IAAF