19 MAR 2012 General News

The 10 greatest World Race Walking Cup races ever - Have your say!

Denis Nizhegorodov of Russia crosses the finish-line and wins the gold medal (Getty Images)Denis Nizhegorodov of Russia crosses the finish-line and wins the gold medal (Getty Images) © Copyright

These are the 10 greatest IAAF World Race Walking Cup races in its 51-year history - although if you think this a subjective list, you're dead right.


However, the criteria for the 10 included excitement, races that stick in the mind for different reasons, and class walking acts at work. One hopes most athletics fans would be much of the same mind. And yes, there is an order here, so number one lingers longest as the greatest race all the way down to number 10.


Have your say! Feel free to discuss, disagree and post alternatives on the IAAF's World Athletics Club page on Facebook.



1) Men’s 20k, Podebrady 1997

THE sheer speed of this race was breathtaking.


At the previous edition in Beijing, two had got under the yardstick 1:20:00. Eleven did it in the Czech Republic town 50k east of Prague. And unlike the concrete tracks in some IAAF World Race Walking Cups – this course had a pronounced slope on a 1k loop.


Not that it made any difference to the greatest stylist of all time: Jefferson Perez.


The marvel from Ecuador was a year on from his surprise Olympic 20k win, and despite the frantic pace, only once did he grit his teeth, and that was in the eyeballs out last 500 metres when he dropped all those around to break the tape in an amazing 1:18:24.


Such was Perez’s acceleration, the only man who stayed with him, Tan Mingjun from China, was disqualified after he crossed the line a second later.


Instead, Daniel Garcia followed up his 1993 win with second and arms were thrown aloft for the next minute as PBs got posted all the way through the top 20 on a chilly April day.


2) Women’s 20k Turin 2002

THIS was athletics theatre mixed with classic emotion – and all the better for it.


The backdrop added to the occasion, with the race taken slap bang through the middle of the main shopping street in Turin.


Saturday shoppers lingered to swell spectator numbers, and saw Italian Erica Alfridi shed home pressure to mount a marvellous last 1k. Waiting for her at the finish line and screaming at the top of her lungs was her mother.


How Ms. Alfridi evaded security and mixed it with officials was never asked. But she could see her daughter coming from a long way down the straight street – and one imagines the Italian walker could see her mum.


A blanket could have been thrown over the first 10 at halfway, and only three had dropped off the pace with 5k to go.


There were still three more who harboured hopes of gold over the last 400m. But a maternal pull saw Alfridi edge an elbow in front of Russian Olympiada Ivanova and plunge over the line into the arms of mum with Ivanova crashing into the back, and all three ending in a glorious heap on the floor.


Alfridi never came close to repeating the success. Perhaps mum stayed at home for the rest.


3) Men’s 50k, San Jose, 1991

THIS was a rare case of a non-winner taking central stage.


In fact, bronze medallist Ronald Weigel thought he finished fifth, later to be told it was fourth, only for the German to be then elevated to the podium.


As he joked afterwards: “I didn’t want to get up there quickly, just in case there was even better news.”


Andrey Perlov was leading in the last 400 metres in northern California only to be shown the dreaded red disc of disqualification.


Ignoring protocol, the Russian who would be Olympic champion the following year, pushed aside chief judge Gary Westerfield and kept going.


The official was having none of it, and hopping onto a golf cart ferrying information around the course, he adapted the famous film cliché: ‘Follow that walker!’


He jumped out 50m from the finish and clinging on to clipboard and everything else, caught up with Perlov inches from the line before physically shoving him to one side.


What did Perlov say to Westerfield?


“I don’t know,” said the judge, “it was in Russian – but I don’t think he was pleased.”


Mexican Carlos Mercanario was the eventual winner. Simon Baker (Australia) was second, and when second Russian Aleksandr Potashov also got belated bad news, Weigel made up the places.


4) Men’s 20k, Monterrey, 1993

THERE is nothing like a hometown winner to engender interest – and Daniel Garcia duly delivered the goods for this one.


Race walking is often described as the Cinderella sport of athletics. You would have been hard pressed to call it that after the Mexican won gold.


There were scenes reminiscent of the Oscars as cameramen, TV crews, radio and journalists all heaved, argued and fought to get close to the winner and add to the moment.


Live national TV wanted a piece of the action, as did just about everyone else, and it more than helped Mexico won the team event as well.


Often seen as a second national sport behind football, walking and Garcia’s profile shot up as a result of a last-lap sprint that curiously saw a road underpass used on the 2k loop.


He went down in the dark, but when he emerged, it was limelight from there to the finish as Garcia beat Spaniard Valentin Massana by six seconds.


5) Men’s 50k, Cheboksary 2008

ANYONE who has ever led a marathon or walked 50k will know when you are caught – you usually stay caught.


Not so Denis Nizhegorodov. In fact, such was the Russian’s power of recovery at 44k when team-mate Vladimir Kanaykin reined him in – he went away again at speed to post the current world record 3:34:14.


The race seemed over as Kanaykin moved into first, and for a second Nizhegorodov’s head dropped much as it did when he painfully crawled into the Olympic stadium for second in 2004.


But this time, he regrouped mentally and posted 8:19 for the fastest 2k lap of the race from 46-48k on a picturesque course that could also be seen from start to finish.


The bonus of a natural amphitheatre made by a surrounding hill allowed hometown spectators to marvel in the Russian’s supreme effort that bettered Australian Nathan Deakes’ record by 1:33.


A World record anytime is good, but when achieved in the white heat of a major competition – it supersedes anything achieved using pacemakers and minus any pressure.


6) Junior women’s 10k, Chihuahua 2010

THE beauty of all sport is the unexpected – and the outsider’s win is about as good as it gets in whetting our appetite for more.


Russia dominated the junior women’s 10k like no one else leading into the last edition at Chihuahua in 2010.


Seven out of the previous nine medals had gone their way – the other two went to China. And in Cheboksary in 2008, the race was over after 50 metres. That’s how long it took for clear daylight to appear between Russia’s chosen three and the rest.


So there were short odds on anyone upsetting the eastern applecart in Mexico.


But the metaphorical fruit was scattered to the four winds after 8k on a tough, hot day that did nothing for European skin unless it belonged to Antonella Palmisano.


The 18-year-old Italian’s PB leading into the race was more than four minutes behind the leading Russian pair.


But that counted for little leading into the last lap of five when Palmisano rescued a poor weekend for Italy to defy odds and conditions and win by five seconds from China’s Qin He in 47:52.


The time was no great shakes, but in championship events, it’s all about crossing the line first.


7) Men’s 20k – Isle of Man 1985

WORLD Walking Cups tend to be on flat courses – but no-one told the good folks at St John’s on the Isle of Man.


The isle that sits halfway between northern England and Northern Ireland produced a hill on a 2k circuit that only Montjuic in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics came close to replicating.


It also appeared towards the end of each lap, so that when three of the finest to ever heel and toe went for it at the end, it looked as if they were going down rather than up – such was the acceleration.


But that’s what you get with the best.


And it was no surprise when Czech Republic’s Jozef Pribilinec crossed the line in 1:21:41 – an excellent time for a brute of a course.


However, his joy would have to wait.


A third DQ card already had his name on it – and the man who finished second by a second, went top of the podium.


Mind you, Spain’s Jose Marin was in turn just one second ahead of Maurizio Damilano in one of the closest finishes in Cup history.


And all three ended up with other major honours to boast. Marin had already won the 1982 European Championships, and Damilano, 1980 Olympic gold.


Priblinec would have to wait another three years before his golden moment in Seoul.


8) Men’s 20k, Eschborn 1970

EVEN if there are massive questions marks over the old East German regime – there was no doubt about the quality of this race.


It featured three of the best walkers from the 60s and 70s and two Olympic champions. But the winner was a man on the first of two 20k Lugano wins as it was known then.


Hans-Georg Reimann never achieved the lasting fame of Vladimir Golubnichiy and Peter Frenkel, but the GDR champion knew how to sprint in 1970.


There was a never a vest-width between the three for the first 16k. But the man wearing number one then lit the afterburners to get the better of adversaries and put seven seconds between he and the great Russian, with Frenkel a further 11 seconds back.


9) Men’s 20k, Milton Keynes 1977

BRITISH walkers staged a series of fundraisers for the £5,000 needed for the event in the town of the future as Milton Keynes was dubbed.


It was somewhat appropriate therefore that after more than a decade of eastern dominance, there were new kids on the block.


Strangely, for Mexico, it had been a while coming.


After a breakthrough Olympic silver in 1968, it took another eight years before Daniel Bautista provided the gold in Montreal 1976.


He was back for this one, and spectators swear it was one of the few occasions they saw a walker ‘lifting’ (losing contact) going up a slope!


Such was his and Domingo Colin’s strength, the two left the rest behind and although there was a comfortable win for Bautista, his amigo had a desperate last 50m when he just held off the fast-finishing Karl-Heinz Stadmuller to remind everyone the GDR had a way to go before they could be totally forgotten.


10) Women’s 20k, Mezidon-Canon 1999

IT WOULD be remiss not to mention at least one win by China – but which one?


There are plenty to go around after the nation came to walking prominence in the early 1980s.


If the tiny little French village of Mezidon never sees another major sporting attraction, it will remember the patient dogged determination of Liu Hongyu.


Pacing a race is as much to be admired as anything else. And the Chinese waited while a series of early leaders, and there were various after two early Russians got reeled in, burnt themselves out, with Liu making a break when it mattered, and winning in a fast time on a hot Saturday by seven seconds over Russia’s Natalya Fedoskina.


Paul Warburton for the IAAF