Russia’s Olimpiada Ivanova, the reigning World 20km Race Walking champion, who in August was crowned European gold medallist in Munich, is the outstanding favourite to take the IAAF World Race Walking Cup title in Torino this weekend.
Ivanova who set a World best time (1:24:50) for 20km when winning the Russian winter championships in March 2001, has had an exemplary competitive record since the women’s championship distance was increased from 10km in 1999. The Russian has also won the 2000 European Cup and the 2001 Goodwill Games titles.
The Russian was followed home by her compatriot Yelena Nikolayeva at both the Goodwill Games and this summer in Munich, and at the 2001 World Championships by Valentina Tsybulskaya of Belarus, and both these women will also contest the Cup in Torino. Notably, Nikolayeva, 36 years-old, took the silver medal over 10km at the 1995 celebration of this event.
The current world list is predictably headed by Ivanova (1:26:42), with Nikolayeva (1:27:01) second ranked, and another Russian Natalya Fedoskina (1:27:45) who as a nineteen year old took the silver medal in the Cup last time out in 1999. In 2002, the world’s seven fastest athletes are all Russians, with fourth fastest (Lyudmila Yefimkina, 1:27:51) and sixth fastest (Nadezhda Ryashkina, 1:28:18 ), completing the seemingly invincible Russian squad.
Since the women’s World Race Walking Cup was inaugurated in 1983, the Chinese have taken five of the nine titles which have been contested at either 10km or 20km, and though the winner of the last edition (Mezidon 1999), Liu Hongyu, will not defend her title, they will no doubt offer another stiff challenge.
Also, don’t forget the challenge of either Australia’s Commonwealth champion Jane Saville, who was in a medal position at the Sydney Olympics before being disqualified on the final approach to the stadium or Romania’s Norica Cimpean who was sixth in both Sydney and the 2001 World championships, and took the bronze in the 1999 World Race Walking Cup. Ireland’s European fourth placer Gillian O’Sullivan who set a national record of 1:28:46 in Munich – tenth fastest in the world – should also be a serious contender.
Yet perhaps we should look no further than the Torino hosts for Ivanova’s most significant opponents, as the Italian duo of Elisabetta Perrone and Erika Alfridi (1:28:33 world’s 8th fastest in 2002), are respectively the World and European bronze medallists. The two 34 year-old walkers whose careers are littered with plenty of other top 8 finishes at major championships, will both be aiming for their first gold medals, hoping to emulate on home soil the greatest ever female Italian walker Annarita Sidoti, a former World and double European champion, who will not compete this weekend.