There was a mischievous thought this week that Olga Kaniskina and Valeriy Borchin should be awarded firsts at the lucrative 2011 IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final in La Coruna on Saturday (17) before the event – and leave a proper battle to everyone else.
The super Russians could watch competitive races from one of the town’s waterside bars by way of a change – rather than fretting about the size of their lead.
As it stands, when the pair put their name down for the season’s finale in northern Spain, and the chance to win $30,000 each in the 10Km races for men and women – the book slammed shut on them both.
Kaniskina superbly defended her IAAF World Championship title in Daegu just over two weeks ago: the only walker to dip under the yardstick 1:30:00 in steamy Korea, and the first to win the title three times in a row.
She is the current Olympic champion, former World record holder for the mark, and is unbeaten in any major race for three years. The only reason she did not defend the IAAF World Walking Cup last year is because she did not enter. And as far as anything can be found on her racing record as a senior – Kaniskina has never been disqualified.
Her competitors’ only hope is the 26-year-old gets stuck in transit en route from her native Mordovia – or retires before Saturday. As straws go, they are not even worth reaching for – never mind clutching.
Borchin too, has all but sewn up the men’s race.
He also defended his IAAF World Championship 20k title in Daegu by a margin to go with Olympic gold like Kaniskina.
Unlike his team-mate from the Saransk walking centre in Mordovia, Borchin is not the fastest 10k walker toeing the line in La Coruna. That honour belongs to the 2010 Challenge final champion Zhen Wang, who walked a World junior record (37:44) to triumph in Beijing, and the second-fastest time for the distance.
Maybe, maybe just maybe, if someone like Wang or Luis Fernando Lopez puts Borchin under pressure in the last three kilometres – we might have a race on our hands. The sprint for the line then would be in the judges hands.
This is Lopez’s time – and it would also be a surprise if he fails to make the top four at least.
The 32-year-old Colombian has made steady inroads on the top 10 for the last three years, with a fourth in the IAAF World Walking Cup last year, and a fine bronze in Daegu that went hand-in-hand with a PB over 20Km.
Even with the fatigue of a demanding year, the bit is still between the Lopez teeth, and if others are maybe not quite up for one last effort – one gets the impression he is.
Of the other seven eligible for a share of the $200,000 available at the beginning of the year, Jared Tallent and Yafei Chu (second in Beijing last year, 37:57) are the next fastest on paper.
But the Australian walked a hard 50Km in Daegu for bronze, and that may have taken a bit of the sting out of his legs.
All 10 have walked under 40 minutes for the distance, so together with a supporting cast of those ineligible for Challenge money – there should be a raft of super-fast clockings in a town that enjoys a regular berth in the IAAF Challenge series.
As far as the race for second in the women goes – take your pick from 11.
Hong Liu's PB is the next fastest after Kaniskina's, and was silver to the Russian’s gold in Daegu that went with a bronze for the Chinese two years ago.
But a clutch of talented Portuguese, Spain’s Beatriz Pascual – on home soil of course – Olive Loughnane from Ireland, and Germany’s Melanie Seeger should all be pretty close when it comes to a battle for third, with another strong supporting cast outside the money making up the 23-strong field.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF