The seventh leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge 2008 takes place on Saturday (7 June) in La Coruña, a city which hosts every year a world-class walking meet called the ‘Gran Premio Cantones de marcha’.
The events scheduled to be contested are 20km Race Walks for both men and women. The northwest Spanish coastal city hosted a successful IAAF World Race Walking Cup two years and offers the competitors an ideal, flat 1km-long circuit on which to get fast times while the spectators also benefit since they have the chance to witness a star-studded field establish plenty of fast times.
As a spokeswoman of the organisation comments: “Saturday’s event is one of the last opportunities for the walkers to get the qualifying standards for the Beijing Olympics, the circuit is suitable for that purpose and so we have attracted so many fine athletes.”
Men’s 20km - A Tysse-Markov showdown?
The men’s line up features no less than four walkers from the Osaka World top-ten finishers in the guise of Tunisia’s Hatem Ghoula, Ireland’s Robert Heffernan, Norway’s Eric Tysse and Russia’s Ilya Markov. Ghoula, who will turn 35 years of age on the event’s day, made history at the Osaka Worlds as he became the first African to clinch a medal – bronze - in walking race at either Worlds or Olympics.
However, the Tunisian had to settle for 11th at last month’s World Cup held in Cheboksary in spite of a notable 1:19:54 time. At that contest, Ghoula was well-beaten by the 27-year-old Tysse and Markov. The latter finished 4th with a 1:19:04 performance, and should have very nice memories from Spain as he snatched 20km gold at the 1999 Seville Worlds. As for Tysse, he has been in medal position at the three IAAF challenges he has competed this year, Chihuahua (3rd), Rio Maior (winner in 1:19.51) and Sesto San Giovanni (3rd). In addition, Tysse is fresh from a national record of 1:19:11 when placing 6th in Cheboksary and ranks second overall at the 2008 Walking Race Challenge with 31 points.
Other entrants include Ireland’s Robert Heffernan, who took 6th in Osaka and broke the Irish record by clocking 1:19:22 for 9th in Cheboksary, and the Portuguese pair of Joao Vieira and Sergio Vieira.
In the absence of the overwhelming victor from the last four years ‘Paquillo’ Fernández, who only does a 10km track outing at the Spanish Championships in late July before the Olympics, the Spanish hopes will rest on 2005 U-23 silver medallist Benjamín Sánchez (PB of 1:20.48 in Cheboksary).
Women’s 20km - Fourth consecutive success for Plätzer?
Kjersti Plätzer, who is the older sister of Eric Tysse seems to be the woman to beat on Saturday. The experienced 36-year-old already managed a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and could be in the Beijing medal hunt again taking in consideration her three victories in a row at the IAAF permits in Chihuahua, Rio Maior (SB of 1:29.29) and Sesto San Giovanni which has led her to the top spot place overall with 30 points.
Reigning Olympic champion Athanasia Tsoumeleka of Greece chases the Norwegian on the IAAF Walking Race Challenge with 23 points but she could not further than 14th at the World Cup in Cheboksary and so the main threat for Plätzer could well come from other top-eight Osaka finishers such as Romania Claudia Stef, the Portuguese duo of Susana Feitor and Ines Henriques plus Germany’s Sabine Zimmer, who became National champion last Sunday and has already secured her Beijing berth.
Australia’s Jane Saville, Belarus’ Helena Ginko and Spain’s Maria José Poves – all top-ten in Cheboksary – should not to be discounted for the podium places.
The course’s records are held by ‘Paquillo Fernaández’ thanks to a 1:17.52 clocking back in 2005 and Ryta Turava of Belarus, author of a 1:26.27 time when winning the World Cup in 2006.
Weather forecasters predict a temperature in the 17-20ºC range by the time of the competition and a low 10% rain likelihood.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF