Jared Tallent of Australia, Yohan Diniz of France and Horacio Nava of Mexico in action in the men's 50km Race Walk final at the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics (Getty Images) © Copyright
One of the more intriguing contests slated for the season is a head-to-head between Nathan Deakes and Eder Sanchez in the Dudince 50k on 26 March next month.
One talented walker is making his tentative way back from a catalogue of injuries – the other is making his debut at the distance after winning the 2009 Challenge title at 20k while placing third the year before.
The Slovakian city where the Australian and Mexican toe the line carries only a Category C rating as far as Challenge points go.
But the race might still be a pretty good indicator for the IAAF World Championships later on in Daegu – and there are 20 points to the winner in Korea.
Sanchez admits he’s dipping his toe into the water of the longer distance event.
He said: “The 2011 Challenge is a new phase in my career because I’m trying my first 50k, although before that I have to do well in Chihuahua at 20k (5 March) because that will get me a place in the World Championships team.
“I also plan to race Rio Maior and Taican in China.”
The Central American champion is putting the final touches to his training in the northern Chilean town of Arica where he has been banging out 210 kilometres a week for the last four months, although he intends to taper down for the all important selection race in Chihuahua.
In contrast, Deakes is no stranger to 50k.
Indeed, the former IAAF World champion and World record holder at the distance was favourite for Olympic gold in 2008 – but as he put it, his ‘heart was ripped out’ by injuries that scuppered his racing plans for the last two years.
A comeback at the Category C race in Hobart 12 months ago ended in a disappointing DNF. In the 2011 edition on Sunday, he got seventh. No great shakes compared with the past, but the vital thing was Deakes completed the race in a decent 1:25:38. Now the 33-year-old hopes Dudince offers a chance to recapture former glories.
Two weeks before, European champion Yohan Diniz is attempting a 50k World track record in his home city of Reims.
The Frenchman believes a successful attempt will be the encouragement he needs to tackle the IAAF World Championships as well as a couple of other Challenge races in order to toe the line at the final in La Coruna.
One 50k exponent who won’t feature in the early Challenge races is Alex Schwazer.
Not because the Olympic champion doesn’t fancy the task – but because a skiing accident where the Italian hurt his knee last month has all but wrecked his January and February training programme.
However, a challenge perennial in the shape of Luke Adams got his 2011 tilt under way at Hobart where he finished a heartening second in 1:21:00.
The 34-year-old Australian only needs a second place to complete a remarkable sequence of first, third, fourth – as well as a 2010 ninth – over the last four Challenge series.
Fellow countryman Jared Tallent will almost certainly be in the mix after winning it in 2008, fifth a year later and sixth in the World record 10k final in Beijing five months ago.
His saunter along the Hobart waterfront where he headed Adams by 42 seconds to triumph for the second year running suggests it’s Challenge business as usual for the Commonwealth champion.
Irishman Robbie Heffernan is also in good shape after a nippy 2:07 30k two weeks ago, but it will be a major surprise if the Portuguese don’t hog the early Challenge standings in the women’s division.
Former IAAF World Championships bronze medallist Susana Feitor is now being coached by Stefan Platzer, who guided wife Kjersti Tysse-Platzer and brother-in-law Erik Tysse to a paper trail of Challenge cheques during the last five years.
And the rest of Feitor’s team-mates, Ines Henriques, Ana Cabecinha, and Vera Santos, who filled up four of the top eight places in 2010 are all in good shape and certain to race the B category race at home in Rio Maior on April 9.
A new role as a mother will deprive the Challenge of Sabine Krantz (nee Zimmer) in the early stages. But while the German rocks the cradle, Italian Elisa Rigaudo is ready to roll back into Challenge action after giving birth last September.
Mum’s also the word for title holder Melanie Seeger who wrote she was down in the dumps around Christmas – but got a belated gift in the return of a nippy 12:39 for an indoor 3k in a low-key event in January.
“Because of my poor form of training I had concerns about racing,” she said.
“But despite the burden of teaching, looking after my daughter, as well as training, it went well at a time when I had not expected much.
“Now I need to qualify for Daegu.”
Paul Warburton for the IAAF
- Jared Tallent of Australia, Yohan Diniz of France and Horacio Nava of Mexico in action in the men's 50km Race Walk final at the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Eder Sanchez takes the 20km victory at the 2009 Chihuahua Race Walking Challenge event (Alex Aguirre) © Copyright
- Susana Feitor wins in Murcia (Véronique Lauer) © Copyright