Olga Kaniskina: world 20km walk champion last year, Olympic champion this year (Getty Images) © Copyright
The brilliant Russian has maintained her near invincible form this year, winning the Russian Winter Walking Championships in a world leading 1:24:56 in Adler and followed this up with a decisive victory at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in China.
Her last defeat over the 20km distance came in May 2007 and many expect the 24-year-old to make history and become the first woman to retain this title.
Russian athletes occupy the top six places on the World List yet it could be veteran Norwegian race walker Kjersti Platzer, 37, who may provide the biggest threat.
The Olympic silver medalist boasts three victories on the IAAF Race Walking Challenge circuit this season and her record is to be respected.
Russian national champion Vera Sokolova, 22, finished 30 seconds adrift of Kaniskina for the runner-up spot in Adler and her time that day of 1:25:26, which stands second on the World Lists, marks her down as a realistic medal challenger.
The host nation will have high hopes for Sabine Krantz. The German, who finished eighth at the 2007 World Championships, has impressed this season, most notably when winning the IAAF Race Walking Challenge event in La Coruna in 1:29:03.
Japan’s Masumi Fuchise is also in good form. She set a national record of 1:28:03 in Kobe earlier this year and snared a World University Games silver medalist and her compatriot Mayumi Kawasaki (1:28:44) should also not be overlooked.
Italy’s Olympic and European bronze medalist Elisa Rigaudo (1:29:04) is another with a proud championship record and will be keen to add to her growing medal collection.
Meanwhile, the Russian quartet is completed by 19-year-old Anisya Kirdyapkina and Larisa Emelyanova, who stand third and fifth, respectively on the World Lists with times of 1:25:26 and 1:25:32 posted in Adler.
Australia Commonwealth bronze medalist Cheryl Webb (1:29:44), Olympic sixth placer Beatriz Pascual (1:29:57) of Spain and Portugal’s Vera Santos (1:29:27) should also be watched.
Steve Landells for the IAAF