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Now in its fourth year as an IAAF World Race Walking Challenge event, the ‘Na Rynek Marsz’ competition in Krakow this Saturday (29) is once again set to be one of the highlights of the race walking season.
The meet has a new location this year, but what hasn’t changed is the quality of the fields assembled by competition director Robert Korzeniowski. The men’s 10 Kilometre race will feature both individual winners of the recent World Race Walking Cup, Hao Wang and Matej Toth, while the women’s field will include the reigning Olympic and World champion Olga Kaniskina.
The competition, which has traditionally taken place in Krakow’s Old Town has been moved to the Blonia recreational area, as the newly laid cobblestones around the old market square were found too dangerous for walkers. It is likely that the new route around a bigger loop will allow for faster times.
In the men’s race, one of those expected to take advantage of the conditions is Erik Tysse. The Norwegian is renowned as a 10 Kilometre specialist, with a personal best of 37:33. He has also finished in runner-up position in the Krakow race twice in the past. And he is undoubtedly in fine form this year, having already taken a first and a second place at 20 Kilometres in two Race Walking Challenge races, as well as fourth at the World Race Walking Cup in Chihuahua earlier this month.
One of Tysse’s main rivals will likely be Eder Sanchez. The Mexican proved his speed at the 10 Kilometre last year by taking third place in last year’s Race Walking Challenge final race in 38:31. Sanchez also took the 2009 overall win, and finished third in the 2008 World Cup and 2009 World Championships. Most recently, he finished seventh in the 20 Kilometre race at the World Race Walking Cup.
The men’s race in Krakow will also for the first time in its history feature Chinese athletes. Wang Hao may be only 20, but he is already an established big-time competitor. He finished fourth in the last Olympic Games and took silver in last year’s World Championships. Most significantly, he was the winner of this year’s World Race Walking Cup race at 20 Kilometres.
Hao’s teammate Zhu Yafei will also make his first appearance in Poland. He too has shown fine form recently, finishing second in Chihuahua, and is a definite danger, being the Asian junior record holder at 10 Kilometres with 39:00 achieved in 2006.
Slovakia’s Matej Toth is best known as a 50 Kilometre specialist, the distance at which he won this year’s World Race Walking Cup race. However, he is also a fine competitor at shorter distances, who finished in the top ten at the 2009 World Championships, and with a sub-19 minute time at 5000m indoors this year he remains a threat.
One other 50 Kilometre specialist in the race is Sergey Kirdyapkin. The Russian walker does not have quite the same pedigree at shorter distances, but with two World Championship gold medals – in 2005 and 2009 – he is always a force to be reckoned with.
The same can be said of Trond Nymark, who finished immediately behind Kirdyapkin at last year’s World Championship 50 Kilometre race. The Norwegian has been very consistent in major championships, and the list of his accomplishments includes two podium finishes at the longer distance in the World Race Walking Cup.
Other top names on the entry list are former World Championship medalist Juan Manuel Molina of Spain and Ireland’s Robert Heffernan, eighth in the last Olympic Games.
Poland’s challenge is led by Grzegorz Sudol, fourth in the World Championship 50 Kilometre race, and in good form this year, as evidenced by a new personal best of 1:20:50 at 20 Kilometres. Also on hand will be Rafal Augustyn, the highest placed Polish athlete in Chihuahua (16th at 20 Kilometres).
Kaniskina the woman to beat
In the women’s race, the undoubted star of the race is Olga Kaniskina. The Russian has been the dominant force in women’s walks in the last few seasons, having taken the last two World titles as well as the 2008 Olympic gold and the World Race Walking Cup win that same year. Last year, she finished second in Krakow with a very fast 41:42, and will be hoping to go one better this time.
Olive Loughnane, the woman who took silver behind Kaniskina in the last World Championships, will also make an appearance. Neither the Russian not the Irishwoman competed in Chihuahua, and this will be their first rematch since they finished 1-2 in Berlin.
Completing the podium in those World Championships, the bronze medalist, Hong Liu, will be in Krakow to ensure a strong Chinese challenge in the women’s race, too. She also finished fourth in the Beijing Olympic race and has already shown good form this year with a win at the national championships.
Another Chinese competitor in the field is Yanfei Li, barely 20 years old. She has already proven herself on the international stage by finishing fifth in this year’s World Race Walking Cup, the highest placing of the Chinese women in that race.
Also not to be overlooked is the Portuguese veteran Susana Feitor. The 35-year old has been competing internationally for two decades. The highlights of her career include a World Championships medal in 2005, and she’s still going strong, having finished tenth in Berlin last year.
The list of those to watch out for would not be complete without Melanie Seeger. The German has been going strong this year, with two second places in the World Race Walking Challenge races, in Rio Maior and Sesto San Giovanni.