Kjersti Platzer edges Susana Feitor in Rio Maior (Rodrigo Branco) © Copyright

Tysse and Plätzer ready for Rio Maior title defence - IAAF Race Walking Challenge - PREVIEW

Lisbon, PortugalNorway’s brother sister duo of Erik Tysse and Kjersti Plätzer, the defending champions, lead a star-studded field as the 2009 IAAF Race Walking Challenge resumes with the 18th Grande Premio Internacional en Marcha Atletica in the Portuguese Race Walking capital of Rio Maior on Saturday, 4 April.

Women’s 20km

As in recent years, the women field is again very strong with last year’s winner Plätzer leading the charge.The 37-year-old mother of two, last year’s Olympic silver medallist, has a personal best of 1:27:07. A very consistent racer in Portugal (she was second in 2007 prior to her victory a year ago), she arrives after winning the the opening leg in Chihuahua, México, last month.

She will have plenty of competition to contend with, beginning with the home team which won silver at the 2008 IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Cheboksary, Russia. The Portuguese entrants include Inês Henriques (pb: 1:30:24), seventh at the 2007 World Championship, and second in Chihuahua this year; Susana Feitor (pb: 1:27:55), a former junior world champion, who was fifth in Osaka in 2007, fifth in Chihuahua this year, and second in Rio Maior last year where she has won three times; Vera Santos (pb: 1:28:14), third in last year’s World Race Walking Cup; Ana Cabecinha (pb: 1:27:46), eighth in the 2008 Olympic Games, and third in Rio Maior last year; and Maribel Gonçalves (pb: 1:32:02).

Among the foreign athletes there are also a number of great specialists including Russian Tatyana Sibileva (pb: 1:26:16), who was second in last year’s World Race Walking Cup; German Sabine Zimmer Krantz (pb: 1:27:56); Irishwoman Olive Loughnane (pb: 1:27:45), seventh at last year’s Olympic Games; and Romanians Claudia Stef (pb: 1:27:41) and Ana Maria Groza (1:29:31).

Lithuanians Kristina Saltanovic (pb: 1:30:44), who lives in Portugal with former national coach, Luis Dias, and Sonata Milušauskaité (pb: 1:30:26), have both wound up on the podium in Rio Maior with third place finishes - Saltanovic in 2001 and 2002, Milušauskaité in 2003 - are remain names to watch.

Men’s 20km

In the men’s race, defending champion (also third here in 2007) Tysse (pb: 1:19:11), is the leading name. Fifth in the 50km Race Walk in Beijing last summer and at the 2007 World Championships, Tysse opened the Rae Walking Challenge series with a solid fourth place performance in Chihuahua.

Among his challengers are a pair of Chinese Olympians, Hao Wang (pb.: 1:19:47), fourth over the distance in Beijing last year, and Yafei Chu (pb: 1:18:44), tenth in Beijijng.

Others to be considered over the one kilometre circuit located in the center of town are Italian Giorgio Rubino (pb: 1:21:17), who was fifth at the 2007 World Championship; Germany’s Andre Höhne (pb: 1:20:00), seventh at the 2008 World Race Walking Cup and third in Rio Maior last year; Robert Heffernan of Ireland (pb: 1:19:22); Mexican Jesus Sánchez (pb: 1:23:02), who was third in the Chihuahua 50 km this year; and former podium finishers in Rio Maior including Ivan Trotski of Belarus (pb: 1:19:40) who was third in 2004, and Spaniards David Domíngez (pb: 1:20:15) and Juan Porras (pb: 1:23.:43) who were second and third here respectively, in 2004 and 1999.

The Portuguese are represented by João Vieira (pb: 1:20:09), a bronze medallist at the 2006 European Championship who is also the coach of four-time Rio Maior podium finisher Vera Santos. His twin brother, Sergio Vieira (pb: 1:20:58), was third here in 1998 and second in 1999. Both were born in Rio Maior, a town about 100km from Lisbon in the middle of the country, which boasts a great sporting environment in secondary schools and a sport university. Most of best ever Portuguese walkers are from this town.

Additionally, the day festivities will include races for younger walkers prior to the international 20Km event. A large crowd is expected the line the entire circuit.

António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF