Alex Schwazer on the way to his first victory in Dudince (Branislav Račko) © Copyright

Men's 50 Kilometres Race Walk - PREVIEW

Defending champion Alex Schwazer may have been an absentee but will be well aware this year's IAAF World Race Walking Cup clearly indicated he will have to be at his sharpest to defend his 50km Race Walk gold medal.

Schwazer's absence in Saransk saw his great rival Sergey Kirdyapkin in a terrific race defeat fellow Russian Igor Erikhin by only two seconds in a world leading time of 3:38:08 sending out a clear message they want a repeat of that result in London.

With last year's World champion Sergey Bakulin clinching his Olympic place when third in the 25th anniversary of the global event in the "Race City" of road walking, the Russian contingent is represented with seasoned performers to win its first gold medal since Andrey Perlov wearing the vest of the EUN took the 1992 title.

On that occasion Perlov won by almost two minutes but the current crop of walkers are much more evenly matched as their World Race Walking Cup encounter showed, Australia's Jared Tallent clocking 3:40:32 for the bronze medal, although there was a gap before Tianfeng Si of China crossed the line in 3:43:05.

Tallent the 2008 silver medallist will be determined to stay much closer on this occasion to Schwazer who four years ago played his winning card with a speedy break for two kilometres which took him clear just after the 40K marker, before motoring on to an Olympic record of 3:37:09.

Tianfeng Si who is making his second Olympic appearance and at his best is a 3:38:48 performer, has come on leaps and bounds since Beijing where he placed 17th then proved his ability winning the 2010 Asian Games gold medal. That continued last summer with his fourth position at the World Championships in Daegu.

As good as they all are there is no doubt Schwazer is in mint condition to repeat his victory. The 27-year-old produced a time of 3:40:58 when winning in Dudince at the end of March and given not only his own desire to defend the title will also be determined to live up to the expectations of a highly knowledgable walking-mad Italian nation.

Also in the frame - although he has yet to show his hand this year - is Yohann Diniz. The Frenchman went off like a man possessed in Dageu last summer before being disqualified after 17km.

Diniz having dropped back suffering from a stomach problem and a hamstring strain after around 33km at the last Olympics will no doubt be hoping to make much more of an impression on this occasion.

There is little to choose on paper who will win although given the technicality of the event and the infractions which can result in looking for that extra metre or so without committing lifting offences, always lend as element of surprise the likely result.

David Martin for the IAAF