The famous “Città di Sesto”, the third leg of the 2003 IAAF Walking Challenge, celebrates its 46th edition (24th for the women event) in Sesto San Giovanni on the outskirts of Milan on Thursday 1 May, and this year's start list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of Race Walking.
In the men’s 20km, the double Sydney Olympic champion Robert Korzeniowski of Poland, is joined among others by the reigning European 20km champion Francisco Fernandez, Jefferson Perez of Equador, the 2002 IAAF World Cup champion and 1996 Olympic winner, Latvia’s Aigars Fadejevs, who was second at the Sydney Olympics 50 km, Italy’s Ivano Brugnetti, the 1999 50km World champion, and the Belarussian's Yevgeniy Misulya, and Ivan Trotskiy.
Korzeniowski, arguably the greatest race walker of all-time after winning three Olympic titles (over 50km in Atlanta 1996, 20km and 50km in Sydney 2000), the 1997 and 2001 World 50km titles, and the European 50km gold in 1998 and 2002, the latter in a World best of 3:36:39, attended the pre-event press conference yesterday (29 April).
“I am particularly happy to compete in the IAAF Walking Challenge this year. I finished third in Tijuana behind Segura and Fernandez and I am planning to compete in La Coruna at the beginning of June."
"My build-up for Paris (World Championships) will continue on 14 June in a race I organize in Poland, which will be broadcast on the Polish television. My popularity is helping to boost walking races in my country. I think that this IAAF circuit is of vital importance for the walking events because it could help to increase the popularity of our discipline.”
“I am planning to compete over the 50km at the World Championships this summer and at the Olympics in Athens in 2004. I will do my best in Sesto over the shorter distance because I have to defend the honour of being reigning Olympic Champion. I know that I will face stiff opposition against Perez and Fernandez”.
Asked about his plans after his retirement after next year’s Olympic Games the french-based athlete said: “I will remain involved in the athletics world and I hope to make my contribution to the future of walking events as an organizer. I will continue with this business in my company. So I am sure I will be very busy in the years to come.”
Korzeniowski has been living in Tourcoing in northern France since 1992, and competes for the local team US Tourcoing.
“I live in France with my wife Agnieska (a former 400 metres sprinter) and our daughter. There the climate is much warmer than in my country and I find better conditions for my training. I also prepare at altitude in Fort Romeau in the French Pyrennes twice a year,” said the PE teacher.
Italy’s Ivano Brugnetti, who was born and grew up in Sesto San Giovanni and is coached by Professor Antonio La Torre, said about his prospect for Thursday’s race: “I am aiming at the 50km event at May's European Cup in Russia, so this race is only a build-up towards Cheboksary, so I am not at top fitness now."
"However, the race in Sesto San Giovanni is very important for me because I will compete in front of my my friends and my relatives. In this town I took the first steps of my career which so far has been highlighted by my surprising gold medal at the 1999 IAAF World Championships in Sevilla.”
The women’s field in Sesto San Giovanni will also compete over 20km, and is headed by Gillian O’Sullivan of Ireland who set the world's fastest ever times for both the 5000m last summer and for 3000m Race Walk indoors this winter, and won the opening challenge race over 20km in Tijuana.
Contending for prizes with Ireland’s best will be Russia’s Nadezhda Ryashkina, Kjersti Plätzer from Norway, who was the Olympic silver medallist in Sydney and won here at Sesto last year, Australia's Commonwealth champion Jane Saville, Portugual’s Susanna Feitor and Kazakistan’s Svetlana Tolstaya.
Italian hopes will be led by Elisabetta Rigaudo (2001 European under-23 champion) and Rossella Giordano, as the star names of Elisabetta Perrone and Erica Alfridi will be absent for differing reasons.
Perrone has already competed in the first two legs of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge held in Tijuana (Mexico) where she finished sixth, and Rio Major (Portugal) where she clinched the win in the 20 km event. Perrone, a World bronze medallist in Edmonton 2001 and silver medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the 10km, now prefers focusing on the next European Walking Cup scheduled on 18 May in Cheboksary (Russia).
Alfridi who won the IAAF World Cup in Turin last summer and also took the European bronze in Munich, had her winter’s preparation ruined by injuries and underwent surgery some months ago, and so is out of competition at present.
The Sesto Walking race starts at 10 am on Thursday with the 20km women event. The official programme continues at 15.30 with the 20 km men event. The walkers will start and arrive at the “Pino Dordoni” stadium, which has been named after the legendary Dordoni, 1952 Olympic champion in Helsinki in the 50km and three times winner in the first three editions at Sesto in 1957, 1958 and 1959.
After a first lap in the stadium, tomorrow’s race will unfold through the streets of this industrial town.
Among some of the other famous winners in Sesto San Giovanni, there was the 1964 Tokyo Olympic 50km champion Abdon Pamich (took seven consecutive wins between 1961 and 1967), the 1980 Olympic 20km champion and twice World champion (1987 and 1991) Maurizio Damilano (wins in 1982 and 1989), and the 1983 World 20km champion and 1984 Olympic champion Ernesto Canto from Mexico.
Among the past women’s winners are the 1987 World silver Kerry Saxby from Australia (three times in 1987, 1988, 1990), the 1993 World silver medallist Ileana Salvador (twice in 1992 an 1993) and the 1996 Olympic champion Yelena Nikolayeva (1999).