Ryta Turava on her way to victory in Sesto San Giovanni (Lorenzo Sampaolo) © Copyright
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2007 IAAF Race Walking Challenge review

From March to September the 2007 IAAF Race Walking Challenge included six events held over three continents, the first Challenge Final and the World Championships. In the end, Luke Adams and Ryta Turava topped the final standings with siblings Erik and Kjersti Tysse close runners up.

Extract from IAAF 2007 Yearbook

Someone jokingly asked Erik and Kjersti Tysse whether they had a big bag to hold all their prize money from the 2007 IAAF Race Walking Challenge. No, was the reply from Stefan Platzer, manager to both and husband of Kjiersti – but he did.

There was a time when devotees of the sport carried begging bowls along with their training shoes. But the Norwegian champions proved the worth of entering at least four races in the expanded programme, as well as overcoming red tape to get to Saransk, Russia for the final in September.

Platzer’s oversize rucksack on the plane back to Bergen was stuffed with $40,000 for his two charges, who both finished second in the final standings.

Women’s winner Ryta Turava was forced to sit out the final two races with a hip injury according to her manager Olga Nazarova, which left Kjersti Tysse-Platzer chasing places to make up a three-point deficit in Saransk.

However, a back problem forced her off the road in the self-proclaimed capital of walking just after 9km, leaving the absent Belarussian to claim the first-place $30,000.

Adams tops men’s standings

But the men’s seven-month race for the title was so close there was a semi-serious joke about loading new film into the photo-finish equipment.

Erik Tysse raced Luke Adams four times in 2007; both recorded two victories, and their PBs for the season at 1:20:31 for Tysse and 1:20:30 for Adams were just a footstep apart.

Tysse, in first place going into the race, was just three points ahead of his Australian opponent. So as long as the Norwegian kept the precious step advantage, he was going to be $10,000 better off.

But it says much for the friendship between walkers that the day before, the pair went out for a training stint together along the purpose-made course at the Saransk Olympic Centre - the only race walking facility of its type in the world.

“I figure that we both have much to gain,” said the amiable Adams. “It’s not a case of one of us losing out.”

But it was soon evident Tysse had overcooked his World Championships bid just a month before.

His Osaka gamble to enter both the 50km and 20km came unstuck in Saransk, where a hip flexor problem forced Tysse out of the race just a kilometre after his sister’s DNF.

Adams deservedly took the top prize after buying the obligatory invitation to Russia that’s required for a visa through the internet. Ah, the power of cyberspace… World Championships silver medalist Francisco Fernandez may have had a faulty connection.

His no-show in Russia relegated last year’s Challenge winner from second to third, and a number of others with eyes on a high placing were also left stranded in the bureaucratic maze.

World record for Kanaykin in Saransk final

But for a home-grown boy there was unconfined joy. What the final lost in visitors, it more than made up for it in drama as Vladimir Kanaykin delighted crowds thronging the course by erasing Jefferson Perez’s 20km World record in 1:17:16.

Kanaykin was travelling so fast en route to a five-second improvement on the old mark, he was warned by his coach on the last lap to slow down and not attract undue attention from judges.

The 22-year-old’s super effort was enough to elevate him to ninth in the Challenge. But because the rules required the four-race minimum to claim prize money, his material rewards were the race winner’s $2,000, and of all things, a live goat.

Kanayakin and his new friend had time to turn around and watch a distant Adams finish nearly a kilometre behind for second.

Olga Kaniskina wasted no opportunity to cash in on the absent Turava both in Saransk and Osaka.

Her comfortable wins in the women’s 20km moved her up to 10th in the overall standings, but with only two races to her credit, Kaniskina’s prize money came from the World Championships and first in Saransk.

From Mexico to China to Portugal to Italy, challenge travels the world

It says a lot for home advantage that when the Challenge kicked-off in March, there were victories for Omar Segura and Omar Zepeda at Naucalpan in Mexico.

In fact, Mexicans filled up all but one of the top 10 places in the men’s 20km, and all but three in the 50km.

There was a more eclectic look about the women’s race with Tysse-Platzer gathering in the first 10 points of her eventual 37 in total, followed home by Elena Ginko from Belarus.

Later that month Fernandez beat a huge Chinese challenge to win the 20km in Shenzhen in 1:18:51, with Eder Sanchez from Mexico, Perez, Adams and Jared Tallent from Australia together with Jesus Angel-Garcia in the 50km, the only non-Chinese to complete the top tens for all three races.

Olympic champion Ivano Brugnetti stepped on to the 20km winner’s podium in Rio Maior, Portugal in April, 29 seconds clear of Adams, who just edged out Tysse for third by six seconds at the start of their epic duel.

In the women’s race Turava demonstrated her early 2007 dominance of women’s walking to finish 53 seconds ahead of Tysse-Platzer: 1:28:01 to 1:28:54. Fourth place went to Germany’s Sabine Zimmer on her way to an eventual third in the Challenge standings.

By the time the walkers’ circus hit Sesto San Giovanni at the beginning of May, Turava was even fitter.

She notched 1:27:10 to beat Platzer by 31 seconds, with yet another Tysse-Adams stand-off settled by the Norwegian in the men’s 20km.

Tysse’s 1:21:38 through the streets of the Italian town showed an impressive 40 seconds over the Australian.

The pair’s fine form was underlined by the near minute difference between Adams and third place Joao Vieira from Portugal.

Walkers meet in Spain, Poland before Osaka World Champs

And then Tysse recorded his third top 10 finish on the spin with an eighth in La Coruna in June.

But returning to the site of his World Race Walking Cup win a year earlier, the impressive Fernandez bettered his Shenzhen time by a single second to cross the line in first.

The northern Spanish climate must also agree with Han Yucheng, Nathan Deakes and Tunisia’s Hatem Ghoula. All three featured in the top five at the World Cup, and repeated the feat by filling the first four places in the Challenge as well. 

Turava broke the women’s tape in 1:28:44, this time beating Platzer in their one-two battle by 1:38. The Belarussian was also the winner in the World Cup 12 months previously.

And if there was more evidence needed that a good showing on a course heralds a good return, Claudia Stef finished third in La Coruna.

The Romanian had won the Challenge in Spain a year earlier, and her bronze was a five-place improvement on her previous outing in Rio Maior.

The sixth outing for the Challenge was through the cobbled streets of Krakow. The course surface might not have been up to much, but it was dead centre in the Polish town, which brought a mixture of fans and passers-by to swell the crowd. The majority were watching a race walk for the first time on their way to doing a bit of shopping or going to church.

Sanchez’s prayers came true as he triumphed (1:20:26) following Fernandez’s withdrawal midway through injury.

Tysse came through like a train in the second half to record his best time of the series only five seconds behind the Mexican winner.

It also elevated him to top spot in the Challenge level on 30 points with Adams, the previous leader.

The Norwegian moved up courtesy of his first in Italy compared to Adams’ best showing of second in Portugal. Third in Poland was Ghoula, whose June form saw him at the presentation ceremony for the first time.

By this time she must have got used to walking alone in the women’s 20km, which is just as well, because cobblestones or races held over sand had they been staged, were no stop to Turava at the time.

She went even faster when it started to rain in Krakow in contrast to Zimmer, who went from second as the heavens opened to an eventual fourth, with Elisa Rigaudo from Italy (second) and Ginko (third) filling the distant places.

Perez and Russian pair unbeatable at Worlds

The World Championships were included as part of the programme, and there was a considerable slowing of times in steamy Osaka for Challenge number seven.

It didn’t prevent Perez from claiming the race he wanted most, with a storming finish from Fernandez sprinting past Ghoula for silver yards from the finish.

Tysse and Adams claimed more top ten points, and the Norwegian’s stamina saw him finish fifth in the 50km just six days later even if it was to have repercussions in Saransk.

Turava’s absence was a spur to her rivals, and for the Russian women - absent at most of the most previous meetings - a chance to crowd the podium.

Kaniskina’s win inspired Tatyana Shemyakina to silver, and it was with some courage Mario Vasco was the only one of the following group to break free for bronze.

Platzer piled up the Challenge points in fourth, and Zimmer by claiming eighth, all but cemented third in the standings to make her double four-hour journeys to the Russian embassy worthwhile.

Again it says much for the close-knit walking community that the Norwegians provided the German policewoman with an instant airline ticket over the phone needed to get the precious visa for Saransk.

Last year, there had been just five Challenge meetings. 2007 provided three more chances to add to the sport’s prestige - and better still - were spread from March to the end of September giving top walkers every chance of a stake in the $200,000 prize money.

To those dedicated to the travel and travails of competing on the circuit went the spoils.

Saransk might have been a frontier too far for some, but it didn’t stop Adams, the Tysses and Zimmer from finally greeting their bank managers with a weary smile.

Paul Warburton for the IAAF

Click here for final standings of the 2007 IAAF Race Walking Challenge