The Sesto San Giovanni IAAF Race Walking Challenge event on Sunday 20 June is the last big competitive test for some of the best walkers in the world with two months to go before the beginning of the main Olympic athletics programme in Athens.
The "Coppa Città di Sesto", traditionally scheduled on 1 May, has been postponed to 20 June due to this year's IAAF World Race Walking Cup which took place that weekend in Naumburg, Germany.
This Italian event is a very popular fixture, taking place in Sesto San Giovanni, an industrial town near Milan, which has annually attracted a ‘who's who’ of world race walking over the course of its 47 editions (25 for women), and this year looks like being no exception to that strong tradition.
Elisa Rigaudo will try to defend her current first place in the women's overall standing of the 2004 IAAF Race Walking Challenge. The 24-year old italian, who won the first two legs in Tijuana and Rio Major, and finished an excellent fifth in her new PB of 1:27:49 in Naumburg, will face very strong opposition led by the Romanians Claudia Stef and Norica Cimpean. Stef won the La Coruna race (Spain, 5 June) in 1:27:41, ahead of Cimpean (second in 1:27:52).
Also entered are the 2003 World bronze medallist Valentina Tsybulskaya from Belarus, Kjersti Plätzer of Norway who was the Olympic silver medallist in Sydney, Susanna Feitor from Portugal (nat rec 1:27:55) and Natalie Saville from Australia, the younger sister of the 2002 Commonwealth champion Jane.
Nathan Deakes from Australia, who finished third in the 20 km race in the World Cup in Naumburg in 1:19:11 - behind Jefferson Perez and Robert Korzeniowski - leads a very good line-up for this Sunday's men’s race.
Also included are his compatriot Luke Adams, fifth placer in the World Championships in Paris in 1:19:35, and the Italians Ivano Brugnetti (the 1999 World 50km champion) and Alessandro Gandellini. The latter two are the local favourites, who were born and grew up in Sesto San Giovanni.
"It is the first time that Nathan Deakes competes in Sesto,” said the Sesto-native Antonio La Torre, one of the leading Italian walking coaches who guides both Brugnetti and Gandellini.
"Deakes is in very good shape after a training period in the Italian Saluzzo, and he has confirmed he cannot consider himself to be a great walker without a win in the Sesto race. So Deakes is determined to add his name to the impressive list of winners who have contributed to make the Coppa Città di Sesto one of the best walking races in the world.”
However, Luke Adams is ready to challenge Deakes as hard as possible in Sesto. “Injuries ruined my preparation in the past weeks but I am in good shape. I am determined to perform well against Deakes on Sunday", said Adams during the pre-event press conference.
Local pair building up to Athens
Brugnetti and Gandellini have enjoyed a solid season so far and are looking forward to this Sunday's race with confidence. They are already selected for the Italian Olympic team for Athens and will use Sesto as their test before their final preparation for the Olympics. Brugnetti and Gandellini are respectively fourth and fifth in the overall Challenge standings before this Sunday's race.
Brugnetti said about his hopes: "I had some trouble for years after my surprising World title in the 50 km race in Seville in 1999. This season my preparation is going well. I have always considered myself as a 50 km walker but this year I decided to turn to the shorter event. This choice has paid off.”
”I finished third behind Perez and Korzeniowski in the first leg of the IAAF Challenge in Tijuana in my PB of 1:19:42. Then I was sixth in the World Cup in Naumburg in 1:20:06. These results show that I can be a factor in the 20 km race at the Olympic Games. I hope the support from my friends on the streets will help me to perform well on Sunday,” concluded Brugnetti.
"This is the last race before Athens and we will use it to test our condition after very hard winter training", said Gandellini, who won in Rio Major in 1:22:49 on 3 April.
The line-up for this year's Coppa Città di Sesto also features the 50 km Olympic silver medallist Aigars Fadejevs from Latvia, the African record holder Hatem Ghoula from Tunisia, third in La Coruna on 5 June in 1:20:38, and Portugal's Joao Viera (fourth in La Coruna) who holds the national record with 1:20:30.
The official programme of the Coppa Città di Sesto starts at 10 am with the 20 km women and will be followed by the men's race at 5pm. The walkers will start and arrive at the "Pino Dordoni" stadium, which is named after the legendary Giuseppe Dordoni who won the Olympic gold medal in the 50km in Helsinki in 1952.