23 AUG 2003 Preview

Event Preview Women 20km Walk

She may have been very quiet this season, but Russia's Olimpiada Ivanova remains the firm favourite to take gold in the 20 km walk and retain her title in the process. The Russian was finally crowned world champion aged 31 at Edmonton, taking the tape in 1:27:48 ahead of Belarusian Valentina Tsybulskaya and Elisabetta Perrone of Italy. Since then, she has dominated the discipline in quite some style, first by setting a world best time at the Goodwill Games in September 2001 (1:26:52.3), and then by walking to the European championship title in Munich the following year.

So her rivals have been warned: Ivanova has set her sights on a second world title. While some of the same athletes she left trailing in her wake at Edmonton will be in Paris to try and thwart her, notably Perrone, credited with 4th fastest time of the year (1:27:58), her main rivals are likely to be her fellow Russians, especially Yelena Nikolayeva. Now aged 37, the Olympic 10km gold medallist in 1996 shows no signs of running out of steam, as her time of 1:26:22 last May was the world best performance of the season.

Tatiana Gudkova, three times national champion, and Natalya Fedoskina, 6th in the 2003 world list (1:28:17), are the other Russian contenders for a podium finish.

If there's going to be an upset, it could well come from China's prodigious Hongjuan Song. The 18-year-old was the revelation of the last Chinese championships, picking up the national title while posting the third best time of the year (1:27:16).

With Ivanova, Nikolayeva on the one hand, and Song on the other, the women's 20km walk could yet become a battle of the generations.

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