08 MAY 2008 General News 9 May 2008 – Cheboksary, Russia

“Paquillo” Fernández is confident about Cheboksary title defence

Francisco Javier Fernández en route to his win in La Coruña (Getty Images)Francisco Javier Fernández en route to his win in La Coruña (Getty Images) © Copyright

Cheboksary, RussiaOne of the main favourites for victory in the men’s 20km at the 23rd IAAF World Race Walking Cup, Cheboksary, Russia, 10 – 11 May 2008 will be Spaniard Francisco Javier “Paquillo” Fernández, the defending titleholder following his the magnificent display two years ago in La Coruña in front of an enthusiastic home crowd .

The current European champion and World silver medallist in Osaka in the 20km is full of confidence for Cheboksary: “after my performance some days ago in Madrid where I clocked the season’s best in 10km with 38:27 I’m very confident for Cheboksary but I don’t want to become obsessed with victory. I look at this event as an important test ahead of the Olympics in August.”

Fernández has contested four races during this season, with three victories over 10km and only one competition over 20km in the Race Walking Challenge meet in Chihuahua, Mexico, from which he was forced to retire due to stomach problems.

“Paquillo” will be the leader of the Spanish challenge in Cheboksary, a men’s team that two years ago obtained near complete success in La Coruña with two team victories in the men’s 20km and 50km men and a bronze medal in the Junior 10km.

Fernández evaluated the chances of the team for this year’s edition: “It will be difficult because the Russian team will be very strong taking into account that they are competing at home.”

“But I consider that our team is even stronger than the one in La Coruña and we have chances of being on the medal podiums but the victories will depend on the performance of the Russians.”

“In the 20km we will count on Juan Manuel Molina, who is in very good condition at this moment, Benjamín Sánchez who is another valuable member of the team, and the young walkers Francisco Arcilla and Miguel Ángel López.”

Fernandez has taken part in three editions of the IAAF Race Walking Cup: “In my first participations it seemed to be very difficult. In Podebrady 1997 I was only 47th with 1:22:40 and in Mezidon, two years later, I progressed to the 12th place. My first memories of this competition were a little bitter but with the passing of the years I finally managed to get the victory in this competition two years ago in La Coruña”.

The Spaniard recognised the importance of this competition: “despite not having a big repercussion in the media, the Race Walking Cup is very important for international walkers and it is an even challenge more than a World Championships or an Olympic Games because in the Cup each country can enter five athletes while in the other competitions there are only three athletes per country.”

Looking for his seventh medal in a row in Beijing, Paquillo’s mind is thinking obviously about the Beijing Olympics where he will try to get his seventh medal in a row in international competitions.

Since he was proclaimed European champion in Munich 2002, Fernandez has been on the podium in every Olympics, Worlds and Europeans, showing that he is one of the most consistent walkers in the world of 20 kilometres.

In Beijing he will fight for gold but “it will be very difficult because I will have strongest rivals. The main favourite there will be Ecuadorian Jefferson Pérez, but we will have to take in mind also Mexican Eder Sánchez, the Chinese walkers, who are very strong this year, Tunisian Hatem Ghoula, Italian Ivano Brugnetti, the current Olympic champion or my mate Juan Manuel Molina. Other factors to take into consideration will be the difficult climate with the humid and hot weather.”

Before the Olympics Fernández will compete in Krakow, Poland (24 May) and then in the Spanish Championships in July in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. He will train in Font Romeu, France and during the last few weeks before Beijing’s competition in Matsue, Japan, the same place in which he prepared for last year’s World Championships in Osaka.

Ignacio Mansilla for the IAAF