Reigning Olympic champion Yelena Lashmanova from Russia will highlight the Coppa Citta di Sesto San Giovanni, the popular IAAF Race Walking Challenge event traditionally held on 1 May.
Lashmanova grabbed the headlines last year when she won the IAAF World Cup and became the youngest ever Olympic female race walking champion. In London she beat defending champion and three-time World gold medallist Olga Kaniskina to break the World record with an outstanding 1:25:02, beating Kaniskina by seven seconds.
The Olympic gold was the latest in her growing collection of global titles which also includes the 2009 World youth gold in the 5000m and the 2010 World junior gold in the 10,000m.
The young Russian race walking star got off to a flying start earlier this year, clocking a hugely impressive 1:25:49 in Sochi in February and won in Rio Major with 1:28:19, claiming her fourth consecutive win in just her fifth ever race over the 20km distance.
Portugal will send a strong team which will feature their best walkers, Ana Cabecinha and Ines Henriquez, who celebrate their birthdays respectively on 29 April and on 1 May and they will hope to celebrate with a podium in Sesto San Giovanni.
Cabecinha, a 1:27:46 performer, finished seventh at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu 2011 and ninth at the London Olympic Games. Henrquez clocked a lifetime best of 1:29:36 and finished 15th at the 2012 Olympic Games. At the recent Rio Major race, Cabecinha finished third in 1:29:21 ahead of Henriquez (1:29:56).
Portugal will be also represented by 38-year-old Susana Feitor, bronze medallist at the 1998 European Championships and at the 2005 World Championships. During her long career, Feitor also won the World junior title in Plovdiv 1990 and the World silver medal on home soil in Lisbon in 1994.
The other stand-out names are Julia Takacs from Spain, who boasts a PB of 1:28:44 and finished sixth at the 2008 World Junior Championships, and young Czech hope Lucie Pelantova, who finished runner-up on 13 April in Podrebady, breaking her PB by 45 seconds with 1:32:08.
Heffernan vs Toth in men’s race
The men’s line-up is led by Ireland’s Robert Heffernan, who finished fourth in the 50km in a national record of 3:37:54 and ninth in the 20km at the Olympic Games in London 2012. He also finished fourth in both the 20km and the 50km at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona.
Heffernan will take on Slovakia’s Matej Toth, winner of the 2010 World Cup in the 50km in Chihuahua and eighth over the same distance at the London Olympic Games. More recently Toth finished third in the 20km in a PB of 1:20:14 in Podebrady.
Another top contender for the podium of the prestigious Northern Italian race will be Luis Fernando Lopez, World 20km bronze medallist in Daegu 2011. The line-up is completed by Joao Vieira from Portugal, recent winner in Rio Major in 1:21:08 and 11th at the London Olympics, Yusuke Suzuki from Japan, eighth in the 20km at the 2011 World Championships and third in Sesto last year, Dzianis Simanovich from Belarus, 12th in the 20km at the London 2012 Games, and young Australian Dane Bird Smith.
No less than 20 countries will compete in Sesto San Giovanni. Both races will start from the athletics track named after 1952 Olympic walking legend Pino Dordoni (gold medallist in the 50km in Helsinki 1952) and will continue on a 2000-metre-long circuit to be repeated nine times. At the end of the nine rounds, race walkers will cross the finish-line in the Dordoni track.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF