Many top athletes have represented Japan at previous editions of the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships, but the only hardware they have ever won in a senior event is a team bronze medal in 2014.
Based purely on times achieved during the course of the year, Japan is without doubt one of the strongest nations in the world in the men’s 20km. But while they regularly pick up championship medals over 50km and in junior races, there is a notable absence of medals for Japan at 20km.
Their team for Taicang is as strong as it has ever been; they boast three men who have bettered 1:18 this year, while only two other men in the field have bettered 1:19 in 2018. Not only is the leading Japanese trio the fastest on season’s bests, their personal bests are also faster than any other athlete who’ll be lining up for the 20km in Taicang.
Eiki Takahashi heads to Taicang as the world leader following his 1:17:26 PB to win the Japanese title in Kobe earlier this year. But the 25-year-old is yet to master the art of peaking and often records fast times earlier in the year without being able to replicate them when it really matters.
In his favour, though, his best performance to date on the global stage was his ninth-place finish at the 2014 World Race Walking Cup, which was held in Taicang, so perhaps he will find the streets of the Chinese city to his liking once more.
Toshikazu Yamanishi finished second to Takahashi in Kobe in a big PB of 1:17:41. The 22-year-old is a proven championship performer, too, having won the world U18 title in 2013 and the World University Games title in 2017.
Daisuke Matsunaga, who booked his spot on the team with a 1:17:46 PB in Kobe, also has international medals to his name. He finished second in the U20 race at the 2014 World Race Walking Cup in Taicang, won the world U20 title later that year, and picked up bronze at the 2015 World University Games.
Koki Ikeda and Isamu Fujisawa, who clocked 1:19:13 and 1:19:15 respectively in Kobe, add further strength to the Japanese team.
Colombia’s Eider Arevalo may not be the fastest on the entry list, but the world champion is a man for the big occasion. The 25-year-old is a 1:18:53 man at best, so can be expected to significantly improve on his season’s best of 1:22:13.
The host nation’s 20km quintet combines youth with experience. 1:17:54 performer Wang Kaihua and Olympic silver medallist Cai Zelin are joined by youngsters Gao Yingchao, Jin Xiangqian and Niu Wenchao.
Australia’s Olympic bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith will be high in confidence following his victory at the Common wealth Games. So too will Britain’s Tom Bosworth, who finished just four seconds behind Bird-Smith to take the silver medal in a national record of 1:19:38.
Led by 2015 world champion Miguel Angel Lopez and 2016 World Race Walking Team Championships bronze medallist Alvaro Martin, Spain has a good chance of a team medal, perhaps even another individual podium place.
Other athletes with the potential to challenge for a podium position include Germany’s Christopher Linke and Canada’s 2015 world bronze medallist Ben Thorne.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF