Andrey Ruzavin and Lina Bikulova dominated the 20km events at the Russian Race Walking Championships in Cheboksary on Saturday (8), in the absence of a number of the country's top names who have already been pre-selected to compete at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow this summer.
A scenic one kilometre lap along the bank of Volga river, the same circuit as at the 2008 World Race Walking Cup, was used and the temperatures hovered around the mid-20 degrees Celsius.
The women’s race came down to a duel between Lina Bikulova and Svetlana Vasilyeva for much of the race, with the former taking the honours after moving ahead with six kilometres to go.
Bikulova’s finishing time was a personal best of 1:28:42, an improvement of 16 seconds over the time she posted when finished third at the famous Lugano race back in March.
She currently trains in Chelyabinsk under Olga Oder andso it is the first time in many years that the senior women’s national champion does comes not from the group of race walking guru Viktor Chegin.
Vasilyeva hung on to finish second in 1:29:56 while Natalya Kholodilina was third in 1:30:32.
Status quo for Chegin was restored in the men’s race when the experienced Ruzavin, the former World and European junior champion, retained his national title in 1:19:08.
Ruzavin, now 27, was the fastest Russian in 2012 with his personal best of 1:17.47 that he clocked when winning at the winter national championships. However, he was over looked for the Olympic Games despite finishing fitth at the World Race Walking Cup in Saransk as Russia had pre-selected the 2011 World champion Valery Borshin and two other Russians finished in front of him there.
He went on to win the 2012 national title and, in retaining it, he looks to have done enough this time to be selected for the World Championships team.
Ruzavin’s training partner, the 22-year-old Petr Bogatyrev, posted a personal best of 1:19:36 in second place while 2013 world leader Petr Trofimov was a distant third in 1:23:30.
In the men's 50km, experienced 41-year-old Yuriy Andronov produced spectacular victory with the third-best result in the world this season – 3:43:54. Alexander Yergunkin suffered from cramp on the final 1km lap and could hardly finish, but held on for second place in 3:49:47. The bronze went to 21-year-old Mikhail Kuzakov, who is 20 years younger than the champion Andronov.
Olga Kaniskina, Valery Borchin and Sergey Bakulin have all got their wild cards for Moscow as the reigning World champions from 2011. Yelena Lashmanova and Sergey Kirdyapkin also have been pre-selected after their Olympic victories while Anisya Kirdyapkina and Vera Sokolova booked their places after finishing first and second in Dubince, the same as 22-year-old Denis Strelkov, the winner of the men’s 20km there; where Ruzakin was back in 13th place.
“Though the national champions will clearly get an advantage in the process of team selection, we will not announce our World Championships team right now,” said national coach Alexey Melnikov on Saturday.
“Everything is too complicated (to announce the team immediately). Some athletes will compete both on World University Games (in the Russian city of Kazan) and also the World Championships, some just at the World Championships.
"Both events are top priority for us as they are held on our home soil. I think in a week or so Russia will name its walkers for the World Championships team in race walks,” he added.
Natalia Maryanchik for IAAF