11 MAY 2008 General News Cheboksary, Russia

Russia - 15 out of 20 medals - “It’s normal to expect as many victories as this” – Cheboksary 2008

Gold, silver and bronze medals for Russia in the Junior Women's 10km race (Getty Images)Gold, silver and bronze medals for Russia in the Junior Women's 10km race (Getty Images) © Copyright

Helsinki, Oslo, and Zurich are names to immediately conjure up the notion of athletic greatness.

But Cheboksary?

Until this weekend, the capital of Chuvashia in Russia needed a decent atlas to find it 600km east of Moscow.

But after crowds estimated to be hovering on the 60,000 mark enjoyed the 23rd IAAF World Race Walking Cup whether fans like it or not the city will command a place in the record books.

Cheboksarians like their Race Walking – and race walkers like them.

Denis Nizhegorodov particularly enjoys the course that surrounds a waterside setting on the edge of the Volga.

The 27-year-old walked an unofficial 3:35:29 around the 25 laps four years ago, but there were no officials on hand to ratify the mark with the mandatory doping test.

On Sunday morning (11), Nizhegorodov had a second bite of the cherry and went even better than his 2004 effort.

His 3:34:14 bettered** the official existing World record by 1:33, and underlined what the rest of the 450-odd competitors already feared – that Russian walkers are the best in the world when lined up in depth, and it only needed the first World Cup on home soil to hammer home the point.

It was the third race out of four to see a Russian flag at the top of the flagpole for an individual win, and a couple of hours later when Olga Kaniskina came agonisingly close to an unprecedented second world record on the trot, it indelibly marked Cheboksary as a centre of walking excellence.

The women’s 20km winner was less than surprised no other flag than her country’s was needed for the gold medal at the team ceremonies.

She simply said: “Russians are the best athletes in the world and the results here reflect that.”

Her coach Viktor Chyegin merely shrugged his shoulders at the thought that anyone else could gatecrash the red-and-white vested party.

He said: “My expectations? We are the best in the world, and it’s normal to expect as many victories as this.”

The absolute clean sweep of golds was denied on Saturday afternoon when Spaniard Fernandez retained his 20km title won in La Coruna two years ago.
But it was a Russian weekend, and if you can walk World records like Nizhegorodov, a little chest beating is surely permitted.

He said: “For me it was third time lucky here in Cheboksary. I realised I was going to achieve a World record with 3k to go. It is very important for me that this result is ratified and that I have achieved it in Russia. It is a Russian record.”

“I want to thank the entire team that’s behind us including nutritionists and physiotherapists as well as the coaches.”

Unsurprisingly, the new World record holder paid tribute to the vast swathes of fans who also helped to make it one of the more one-sided athletics championships in modern history.

By the time the podiums were being dismantled late Sunday afternoon, six individual golds, three silvers and a bronze, to go with 100 percent five team golds – that’s 15 out of 20 medals – were staying put in Russia.

Paul Warburton for the IAAF

**subject to ratification