The traditional power houses of Race Walking, the Russians, Chinese, Mexicans, Italians and Spanish will be well represented on the streets of Turin this weekend at the 20th IAAF World Race Walking Cup. Yet beyond these historical bastions of the discipline, race walking has over the course of the last century expanded into a sport with universal appeal.
Poland’s peerless Robert Korzeniowski, the triple Olympic champion might be taking a well-earned rest and sitting out this World Race Walking Cup but a total of 55 countries will be represented in Turin.
Across the three races – men’s 20km and 50km and women’s 20km - athletes with ages ranged down from a veteran 49 years to a sprightly 17 years, and originating from a diverse array of nations such as Liberia, Chile, Tajikistan, Costa Rica, will pound the streets of this northern Italian city, confirming that Race Walking truly encompasses a wide spread of humanity.
Fiji with a team of four walkers in the men’s 20km make their debut in the Cup. Dip Chand, Pradeep Chand, Manohara Maharaj and Selwyn Shaniel with no notable pedigree are unlikely to figure in the team honours but just their competitive presence along with competitors from Egypt and Ghana signifies that walking has come a long way since it received its first international recognition. It was just a little less than 100 years ago that varying walking distances from 1500m to 10 Miles were first introduced at the unofficial “interim” Olympics of 1906 and the official 1908 London Games, competitions which were dominated by American and British walkers.
The distances of 20km and 50km were not standardized for men until the 1952 Olympics, and it has been at these lengths that the World Race Walking Cup has been fought since 1961, when its genesis the Lugano team Cup was first contested. The women’s race after beginning as a 5km event (1979) changed to 10km (1983) and more latterly in 1999 to the present 20km distance.
The Prize awards for the IAAF World Race Walking Cup are also substantial, denoting the event’s growing stature, with individual awards graduating down from $30,000 for first place to $3000 for sixth position, and team prizes from $15,000 for first place to $3000 for sixth, in each of the three races.