Alex Schwazer at the Helsinki World Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright

Leamington Spa Race Walking Grand Prix - Preview

Race walkers from 18 countries are to compete in the seventh Royal Leamington Spa Grand Prix of Race Walking. The event in the central English town on Saturday 17 June includes a junior and senior international team competition - and provides opportunities for European Championships and the World Junior qualifying times, as well as being a rehearsal for next year’ European Cup of Race Walking.

The Grand Prix was an initiative of the national federation UK Athletics for exposing British talent to international competition on home soil. Previous winners at the event include this year’s IAAF World Cup winner at 20km Francisco Fernández of Spain, whose 20km walk time of 1:20:18 is the British all-comers record.

British walkers have been absent from world level championship podiums in recent decades despite, historically, walks being one of Britain’s most successful track and field disciplines in terms of Olympic medals.

The degree of benefit from home advantage as enjoyed by Spain at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in La Coruña last month isn't yet achievable, but the European Cup should provide significant encouragement for Britain's young race walkers looking ahead to London 2012.

Robert Korzeniowski: number one supporter!

Indeed past British medallists Stan Vickers, Ken Matthews, Paul Nihill and Don Thompson as well as all three current Olympic champions including Robert Korzeniowski will be in Leamington to encourage young British talent, and launch the countdown to the European Cup at the venue on 20 May 2007.

Nick Ball hopes to recapture the tradition; he was the leading British performer - finishing 11th in the Junior Men’s 10km walk in La Coruña.

He won the event last year in a breakthrough time of 44:05 and will now be aiming for the 42:30 guideline qualification time for the IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing, later this summer.

Other British defending champions include Rebecca Mersh (Junior Women 10km) and Dominic King (Men 20km) and second last year in the women’s 20km was Johanna Jackson. All face stronger international competition this year, however.

In-form Italians head the field

Twenty one years old Alex Schwazer of Italy won a surprise bronze at the Helsinki World Championships last year in the 50km walk, in an Italian national record of 3:41:54 - his country’s only medal of the competition.

This year Alex set a personal best for 20km of 1:21:38 at the IAAF Grand Prix at Rio Maior, Portugal, but did not defend his national 50km title or start at La Coruña, so he will be looking to set a European Championship qualification time at Leamington tomorrow.

Italy’s Alessandro Gandellini was third in 2000 behind Fernández, but the man in form this year is Portugal’s Joao Veira who placed 6th in La Coruña in 80:33. France’s national record holder Yohann Diniz (80:20) will be looking to make up for the disappointment of missing the World Cup through injury.

These will be challenged by Lorenzo Civallero (ITA) who has a best of 80:34 and France’s Denis Langlois (80:35). The Irish challenge will be led by Colin Griffin who won the Leamington title in 2003 as well as Jamie Costin.

The Women’s 20 kilometres field is headed by Italian duo Elisa Rigaudo and Rossella Giordano. Rigaudo won the 2004 IAAF World Race Walking Challenge and was fifth at the IAAF World Cup of Race Walking in Naumburg in 2004, and was 10th in the World Cup in La Coruña in 2006.

Tim Watt for the IAAF