Milan, ItalyThe 51st edition of the popular Coppa Città di Sesto, the Italian leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge, scheduled on its traditional 1 May date, features as a ‘Who’s Who’ of world race walking, just ten days before the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Cheboksary, Russia.
Perez, Deakes and Brugnetti head loaded men’s 50 km field
Both reigning 20 and 50 km World champions Jefferson Perez from Ecuador and Nathan Deakes from Australia, defending Olympic champion Ivano Brugnetti from Italy and last year’s Sesto winner Erik Tysse from Norway will take part in what promises to be a high-level 20 km competition on the streets of the industrial town on the outskirts of Milan.
Perez comes to Sesto San Giovanni as reigning 20 km World champion thanks to his third World title won in hot and humid Osaka last year. Perez lived up to his reputation as big championships competitor by adding the World title to his personal trophy cabinet which also features the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta 1996 and a hat-trick of Pan-American Games wins plus two more World gold medals from 2003 and 2005. In 1996 the legendary South American walker put Ecuador on the map of world athletics by becoming the first athlete from his country to win a global medal at any sport.
“For me it’s a big honour to compete in Italy,” Perez said. “This country belongs to the history of sport and culture. I competed in Sesto in 2003 in a fantastic race where I finished third behind Francisco Fernandez and Robert Korzeniowski.”
After missing some early season training, Perez said he will bypass next weekend’s World Cup in Cheboksary.
“I was sick after Osaka and I missed some training. My preparation is not enough to compete in the World Cup,” Perez said. Instead, he has his sites set on his fifth Olympic appearance in Beijing later this summer, a race he believes will be his last.
“I will train at the Walking School of Saluzzo in July with the group trained by Sandro Damilano which features Alex Schwazer and Elisa Rigaudo. Last year I trained in Saluzzo before Osaka and I learned something new from Schwazer and at the same time he has the chance to learn from me.”
Local favourite Brugnetti still seeking first victory on home turf
Local fans will have plenty to cheer about as their local hero Brugnetti who will use Sesto as an important test before the World Cup. Brugnetti, who has grown into a world class athlete in Sesto San Giovanni, won the 50 km World title in 1999 and the 2004 Olympic title but has never won the Coppa di Sesto during his career. He won the 10 km Etna Race in San Pietro di Clarenza in Sicily last week in his first race of the season.
“Sesto has always been a taboo race,” Brugnetti said. “I have never been able to win it. This year Sesto will be just a test for Cheboksary. My wife will give birth to our second child at the end of June. This gives me extra motivation for such an important year, when I’ll be competing in Bejing as defending champion.”
Schwazer also in a final tune-up before Cheboksary
The unofficial starting list also includes double 50 km World bronze medal Alex Schwazer, who is preparing for the 50 km at the World Cup and the Beijing Olympic Games where he is one of the big favourites following last year’s World bronze medal in Osaka, a result which left him disappointed at first after crossing the finish-line.
The young walker from Racines in the German-speaking region of Alto Adige won a 35 km race in an impressive 2:35.50 in Maiori and collected the 50 km Italian title in Rosignano Solvay in 3:54:10 this winter but was forced to drop out of the Rio Major 20 km race after few kilometres. Schwazer is trained by Italian walking “guru” Sandro Damilano who has collected a record number of 40 Olympic, World and European titles during his coaching career.
Tysse returns to defend
One of the greatest favourites for Thursday’s race is certainly Eric Tysse from Norway who won last year. Tysse’s win capped a splendid day for Tysse’s family in 2007 after his older sister Kjersti Tysse Plätzer finished second in a national record of 1:27:41.
“It is family business today,” a jubilant Eric Tysse said last year in Sesto. This year Tysse finished third in Chihuahua (Mexico) and won the Rio Major (Portugal) leg and is currently second in the 2008 IAAF World Race Walking Challenge.
The team from Ecuador will feature another prominent name who will team up with Perez in the trip to Italy: Rolando Saquipai, who finished fourth in both Chihuahua and Rio Major.
Plätzer, Tsoumeleka the favourites in the women’s race
Heading up the women’s race - the 29th edition for women in Sesto San Giovanni – is Kjersti Plätzer, Olympic silver medallist in Sydney 2000, who currently leads the 2008 IAAF World Race Walking Challenge after her wins in Chihuahua and Rio Major. Plätzer will pursue her second win in Sesto San Giovanni, a race she takes part in regularly. She won in 2002 and finished second in 2003 and 2007 and third in 2004.
The Norwegian will square off against reigning Olympic champion Athanasia Tsoumeleka from Greece who has recently returned to her best form after maternity leave with her recent fourth place in Rio Major.
Elisa Rigaudo, reigning European bronze medallist from Gothenburg 2006, will carry Italian hopes in a race she won in 2004. The line-up is completed by Osaka world championships sixth placer Claudia Stef from Romania, who was runner-up at the Coppa di Sesto in 2004 and 2006, and by Elena Ginko from Belarus, who won in San Pietro di Clarenza over the 10 km distance on 25 April.
The walking race is one of the most prestigious sport events for Sesto which celebrates the Worker’s Day Festivity on 1 May with its race which attracts many local people along the streets of the town. Athletes competing in this race have often expressed their gratitude to the local fans who support them along the streets of Sesto.
The official programme of this year’s Coppa also incorporates a series of school walking competitions which will involve young students from local schools.
This year local organisers want to make this sport event an important vehicle of peace between the different populations from all over the world. The Coppa di Sesto has always been a meeting of different cultures. In the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue between populations from all over the world sport can contribute to peace.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF