For the first time in it's history dating back to 1961, the IAAF World Race Walking Cup is to include junior men and women's races at Naumburg, Germany.
The younger athletes will gather this Saturday (1 May) with just the IAAF World Junior Championships in Grosseto, Italy, in July with higher priority for the season.
In Naumburg, however, there will be the added spice of team keenly fought team competition - although for both 10 km junior races it's difficult to look beyond victories for Russian and, possibly, Chinese walkers.
Russian trainers are known for developing race walkers at an exceptionally early age and indeed the overwhelming majority of the fastest times walked so far this year were achieved in the Russian Winter Championships in the Black Sea resort of Adler in early February.
World records on the cards?
With no men's junior 10km mark yet established and the women's record of Hongmiao Gao (41:57) looking approachable, we have the prospect of a World record weekend in Naumburg.
Junior Men's 10 km
The Russians develop early as their coaches aren't afraid of pushing their youngest talent into the toughest of competition. Their juniors are therefore already hardened competitors, with the team made up of the first two finishers in the junior 10 km races at the their winter championships in February, plus one who contested their senior 20 km and one extra 'wild card' who raced 35 km and looks set to be the future hope of Russian race walking.
Astonishingly, the World Junior champion of 2002 Vladimir Kanaykin, not only beat Alexei Voyovodin (the 2002 World Cup winner over 50 km) and German Skurygin (silver medallist at the 2003 IAAF World Championships 50 km) but also set a World Best performance of 2:23:17, at just 18 years of age!
This staggering pace for the in-between distance averages at 40:56 per 10 km, and in actual fact his split time from 15 to 25 km in this race was as fast as 40:10.
With Vladimir's best official time for the distance, of last year, being 39:37 he looks set to be a class above the juniors at Naumburg if he chooses to line up for the race; having now reached the the age of nineteen he's entered in the senior 20 km as well. He obviously has the potential to do extraordinarily well in both, but with less than 24 hours recovery after the 10 km it will be a tough decision as to whether to again take on the superstars of walking.
Another factor that may come into play is that Kanaykin was disqualified at the European Junior Championship last July in Tampere, Finland, with another Vladimir from Russia - Vladimir Parvatkin (who moves up to their senior 20 km team at Naumburg) - taking advantage to grab the gold medal that day.
The other members of the Russian team for Naumburg are Aleksandr Prokhorov, who won the Adler junior 10 km race in 40:55 and is the 2003 IAAF World Youth Champion from Sherbrook in Canada, Aleksandr Bibayev (who was second in Adler), plus Andrey Ruzavin who finished 20th in the senior 20 km at that meeting in 1:25:58.
Others who may attempt to challange the Russians include the silver medallist at the European Juniors last year Michal Blazek of Slovakia (the son of Pavol Blazek - the former holder of the World Best time for the 20 km road walk), Alejandro Rojas of Mexico who has walked 41:53 this year, Jirí Chaloupka who won the Czech junior championship in 42:04 and the Belorussians Aliaksandr Kazakov and Aliaksandr Tsivanchuk who defeated Russian opposition indoors over 5 km in Minsk two months ago.
Although he achieved only fifth place at Tampere and tenth in the junior 10 km competition at the European Cup of Race Walking in Cheboksary in Russia last year, a walker who has really grown in stature in his final year as a junior is Benjamin Sánchez of Spain.
The native of the southern city of Murcia, who has set regional and national age records in walking since the age of six, greatly impressed spectators during his win at Leamington Grand Prix Junior 10 km in Great Britain - particular for his strong, stylish and rock-solid walking action.
With a recent new personal best time of 40:55 set at the 'Trofeo Manuel Alcalde' in Guadix, on 10 April, the Spaniard seems the man most likely to challenge the Russians.
Junior Women's' 10 km
Based on times walked this year, and on past championships, it seems the junior women's race will be a Sino-Russian match.
Russians dominate the rankings at 10km and such is the level of domestic competition that the European Cup winner and European Junior Champion of 2003 Irina Petrova came only sixth at Adler, so hasn't made the team for Naumburg.
The winner in that race, and top ranked junior woman this year, is 16 year old Vera Sokolova who was runner up to Petrova at Cheboksary and is the 2003 World Youth Champion from Sherbrook at 5000m. This year she improved her best 10 km to 44:04 and looks the favourite to take the World Cup title ahead of fellow Russians Anna Bragina (44:51 this year) and Svetlana Vasilyeva (45:51).
Outside contenders include Brigita Virbalyté of Lithuania who finished ahead of Vasilyeva in the European Junior championships last year, albeit at over 48 minutes for 10 km, and Aliona Rusak of Belarus was runner-up to Vasilyeva in indoors over 5 km this February.
Agnese Ragonesi of Italy may also feel inspired following Erica Alfridi win in the senior women's World Cup last time in Turin and with Elisa Riguado currently leading the IAAF Grand Prix series.
Chinese teams often pose an uncertain challenge - but with the Beijing Olympics only just over 4 years away they are now building for the near future. They have selected a strong junior women's team made up of the second, third and fourth junior finishers at their national championships in March over 20km, led by 18 year old Xiaoyan Liu, the fastest at 1:32:39, plus Xingtong He and Nan Zhang who clocked 1:33:01 and 1:33:32 respectively.
This shows the great benefit of including junior races in the World Cup - the chance to see the potential future stars of race walking from all nations brought together in open competition.