Another commanding victory for Valeriy Borchin in the Daegu 20Km Race Walk (Getty Images) © Copyright
But earlier this year his winning streak came to an end on home soil at the IAAF World Cup in Saransk, where he finished just 10th in 1:21:29 – his slowest time since his teenage years. The performance has put his Olympic title defence in doubt, and while his lack of competitions since the World Cup is not entirely unusual for someone who races lightly, it makes it all the more difficult to assess his form.
Certainly, his rivals will have reason to feel confident leading into the Games – perhaps none more so than China’s Wang Zhen. Since finishing just outside the medals at last year’s World Championships when aged 19, Wang has been in superb form this year. He set an Asian record of 1:17:36 at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge meet in Taicang in March before winning the 20km title at the World Cup in Saransk, beating many of the Olympic medal contenders in the process.
Should Wang make it on to the podium in London, he will make Olympic history. Despite China’s strength in race walking – they make up one fifth of the athletes in the world all-time lists in both the 20km and 50km walk – no Chinese man has ever won an Olympic medal of any colour in a race walking event. Hao Wang in 2008 and Yu Chaohong in 2004 both came close, finishing fourth. Perhaps it will be third time lucky for Wang in London?
World record-holder and world silver medallist Vladimir Kanaykin and World Cup silver medallist Andrey Krivov make up the Russian team and both will be expected to be in the hunt for medals.
World bronze medallist Luis Fernando López had a disastrous performance at the World Cup this year, finishing a distant 51st. But the Colombian has a knack of raising his game at major championships and should once again find himself in contention for a medal.
But perhaps the dark horse will be Guatemala’s Erick Barrondo. The 21-year-old finished 10th at the World Championships last year before going on to win the Pan-American Games title. He has since improved his PB by more than two and a half minutes with 1:18:25. Should he finish in the top three, he would become Guatemala’s first ever Olympic medallist – not just in athletics, but in any sport!
Other contenders include Matej Tóth of the Slovak Republic, Mexico’s Eder Sanchez, Australia’s Jared Tallent and Ukrainian duo Nazar Kovalenko and Ruslan Dmytrenko.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF