The IAAF Race Walking Challenge 2009 closes with its final in Saransk on Saturday (19), the end to a season consisting of the World Championships in Berlin, six IAAF permit meetings and three Area races at which points could be garnered with the goal to finish in the overall top eight positions and so share in the $202,000 prize money – equally distributed between men and women – which the IAAF offers for this annual challenge.
Both the men and women will contest 10km distance races in the Final.
There is no doubting that the Mordovian capital of Saransk is currently the supreme centre of race walking, you just have to look at the three gold medal winners of the recent IAAF World Championships in Berlin for confirmation of that fact as each of the Russian athletes - Olga Kaniskina (women’s 20km), Valeriy Borchin (20km) and Sergey Kirdyapkin (50km) who won those world crowns – each picking up $60,000 from the IAAF in the process – are trained in the race walking centre in Saransk.
Race walking is a national institution in this Russian Federation Republic with the head of the Mordovian state Nikolay Merkushin honouring the three race walking champions after Berlin by presenting them each with a Toyota car.
Why is Saransk such a strong centre? World and Olympic 20km champion Olga Kaniskina explains:
“Race walking is included in the school programme. Sport in general is extremely popular in our republic. But there is no doubt that most gifted children are selected for the race walking. And here the preparation system works as smoothly as Swiss timing. The best of prospects are naturally invited to the Center of our chief coach.”
Following in the footsteps of the Berlin champions, a younger crop of Saransk walkers are now close to top class too. In 2009 they won gold medals at the World Youth Championships and at the World University Games as well as at the European Championships for under-23 and junior athletes.
Saransk is set to open its heart to this year’s event just as it did when the final was last held in the city, two years ago, and we can expect enormous crowds of spectators on the streets to support the walkers on Saturday.
But the one sadness is that it looks likely that the enthusiastic local fans will offer their support in the absence of their greatest idols, as it looks as though many of the top Russians won't compete in the final of the Race Walking Challenge.
Berlin 50km gold medallist Sergei Kirdyapkin explained that they were so concentrated on peaking for their performances in Berlin that they had never planned to take part in the final of the challenge this year. But that gives a marvellous opportunity for the young and ambitious race walkers of Mordovia to try their hand or rather feet in the tournament alongside some of the best foreign athletes.
UPDATE 19 Sep - Russian team
Russian team will be composed of Stanislav Yemelyanov, Andrey Ruzavin, Aleksey Bartzaikin, Sergey Sergachev (men) and by Tatyana Mineyeva, Tatyana Shemyakina, Anna Lukyanova, Ludmyla Arkhipova and Vera Sokolova (women). All of them are training in the Republic's Olympic Centre in Saransk.
Participation in the challenge final is open to all athletes but only those that have participated in at least four challenge events during the year are eligible for the overall prize money.
Ready to take the season long reward of $30,000 for the best woman is Norway’s Kjersti Platzer, the Beijing Olympic silver medallist who was disqualified in Berlin. Platzer won the overall challenge prize last year and in the standings published after Berlin holds the maximum number of points possible after winning four races in the series. Platzer raced in the Saransk final two years ago and didn’t finish but on that occasion the distance was 20km.
The next two in the women's standings after Berlin are Vera Santos from Portugal and Italy’s Elisa Rigaudo.
Eder Sanchez from Mexico, the bronze medallist from Berlin, leads the men’s challenge standings after the World Championships. He is closely followed by world silver medallist Wang Hao (China), Erik Tysse from Norway. Another Norwegian, Trond Nymark, is next followed by Mexican Jesus Sanchez and last year’s overall challenge winner Jared Tallent from Australia.
Nickolai Dolgopolov and Rostislav Orlov for the IAAF