Elisa Rigaudo, who won the first two legs of the 2004 IAAF Walking Challenge in Tijuana and Rio Major, leads the Italian team at the IAAF Walking World Cup in Naumburg on 1-2 May.
These two victories in the prestigious IAAF Challenge did not come as a surprise to those who know the determination of this 23-year-old Italian who was born in Cuneo on 17 June 1980. She came to the fore in July 2001 when she won the European under 23 Championships in Amsterdam in the 20 km in 1:29:54.
Military club backing
The turning point of her career came in November 2002 when she joined the strong italian military team Fiamme Gialle (Italian Customs Officers). In August 2003 she finished tenth at the World Championships in Paris in 1:30:34.
“If I had not joined the Fiamme Gialle team I would have probably given up. They provided me the financial support I need to train as a professional athlete.”
Olympic and World winning coaching connection
She also owes her recent wins in the IAAF Challenge to her coach Sandro Damilano, the older brother of Maurizio, who won the Olympic men’s 20km title in 1980 and two World gold medals in 1987 and 1991. She has been training in Saluzzo (in the Italian northern region of Piedmont) since she joined Damilano’s training group.
“I moved to Saluzzo in 2000 after finishing school. I began training full-time with Erica Alfridi and Betty Perrone. I have benefited from this training parnership, although they have changed the training group and are now coached by the former world-class walker Gianni Perricelli.”
”From Alfridi and Perrone I have learnt what it means to train professionally. Mr.Damilano is a very experienced coach who began his career training his younger twin brothers Maurizio and Giorgio and this made him one of the best Italian walking trainers. Sandro always tries to keep up to date his training methods learning from coaches from other countries.”
“Our relationship is based on mutual respect and trust. Although he could not come to Albuquerque, where I prepared my 2004 season this winter, he kept in touch with me on a daily basis to give me some useful advice. He has never stopped encouraging me even when I did not achieve the results I hoped.”
First major win
In Tijuana, Rigaudo finished first in her new PB of 1:28:50 ahead of some of the most prominent walkers like Maria Vasco from Spain, the Portuguese Susanna Feitor and the Irish Gillian O’Sullivan, world silver medallist in Paris last year.
“I will never forget the first important win of my career in Mexico. O’Sullivan set the early pace in the first half and reached the 10 km in 44:46. I managed to keep her pace and at 15 km. I tried to push the pace and managed to pull clear of her. This tactic paid off”, said a delighted Rigaudo.
The inaugural leg of this year’s Challenge in Mexico was scheduled to take place whenn she was in the midst of her training camp at 1800 metres of altitude in Albuquerque in New Mexico, where she spent three weeks with the rest of the italian walking team.
“I worked very hard at altitude and this training proved to be successful. I did not really expect these good results at the beginning of the year, although I knew I was in very good shape. A competitive test over the 3 km distance during the Italian Indoor Championships in Genova at the end of February where I clocked a fast 11:57:00 (second in the 2004 world indoor list) indicated that I was in the form of my life but a personal best at the end of March was a bit surprising, especially because I had not improved it for two year ”, commented Rigaudo about her achievement.
“I found ideal condititions in Albuquerque. Apart from the first week it was warm there. I soon benefited from these favourable conditions. We could train very well over a fascinating flat course along the Rio Grande river. We were accomodated near a training centre owned by a former marathon runner.”
Naumburg an important career step
Naumburg represents a very important step in the career of Elisa Rigaudo. “The selection for the three much-coveted Olympic spots for Athens is based on the results achieved during the IAAF Challenge and in the World Cup. According to what the selectors told me I just need to confirm my recent good results to secure the trip to Athens. I am ready for a good individual result, although I will face a very tough opposition led by Russians and chinese athletes who were not in Tijuana and Rio Major but prepared for the World Cup.”
“After Naumburg my schedule features other IAAF Challenge races in La Coruna and Sesto San Giovanni in preparation for the Olympic Games”, confirmed Rigaudo.
“Unfortunately Betty Perrone is not in good shape at the moment. Her absence in Naumburg is a blow for our ambition to perform well in the team ranking. ”
Rigaudo’ s teammates in the German town are defending champion Erica Alfridi, Rossella Giordano, a good sixth placer at the World Championships in Paris, and Gisella Orsini.
The men’s squad features the comeback of Ivano Brugnetti, a former World champion in the 50 km in Seville 1999 at the age of 21. Brugnetti came in third in the 20 km race in Tijuana in his PB of 1:19:42 behind the 2003 World champions Jefferson Perez (20km) of Ecuador and the Polish legend Robert Korzeniowski (50km).
Also in the team are Brugnetti’s training partner Alessandro Gandellini, who completed the Italian Rio Major’s triumph on 3 April by winning in the 20 km race in 1:22:49, the 1995 20 km world champion Michele Didoni, Lorenzo Civallero (eleventh at the Paris World Championships), and Marco Giungi (eigth in the 50 km at the World Championships in Edmonton). For all five athletes, Naumburg will be a crucial selection race for Athens with three spots at stake for the Olympic Games.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
Italian team for the IAAF World Walking Cup in Naumburg:
20 km race:
50 km race:
Giovanni De Benedictis
Women 20 km: