Ivano Brugnetti of Italy wins the men's 20km race walk (Getty Images) © Copyright

Olympic champions to compete in 'best ever' Rio Maior - PREVIEW

Rio Maior, PortugalThree Olympic champions will compete in the second leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge 2005 on Saturday, and a fourth, the most famous race walker of all-time will be present as a coach. The start list is augmented by with several other athletes who have won medals at global level and so all the conditions are in place for the greatest ever edition of the Grande Premio Internacional en Marcha Atletica on 2 April.

Men’s 20km

The organisers have managed to reunite four of the first five finishers from the Athens Olympic Games 2004. Gold medallist Ivano Brugnetti of Italy, will be joined by Spain’s Francisco Fernandez who was the silver medallist in Athens and at the World 2003 Championships, and is the European champion. Australia’s Nathan Deakes, Olympic bronze medallist and winner of the first event of this year's IAAF Challenge in Mexico will also be on show as will Athens fifth placer Juan Molina of Spain.

Other elite athletes will also compete such as Aigars Fadejevs of Latvia, who was ninth in Athens, and is a four times winner in Rio Maior, and Alessandro Gandellini of Italy, who is the defending race champion.

Unfortunately, Jefferson Perez of Ecuador the present World record holder and reigning World 20km champion has withdrawn injured.

Women’s 20km

The Athens Olympic champion Athanasia Tsoumeleka of Greece heads the list in the women’s 20km race and she will be joined by the 2000 Olympic gold medallist Wang Liping, as well as the world’s fastest athlete last year Song Hongjuan who are two members of an extremely high class Chinese squad.

Jane Saville, bronze medallist in Athens, who tops the Event in the IAAF World Rankings will compete, as will Maria Vasco of Spain, the Olympic bronze medallist in Sydney 2000 and winner in Rio Maior in 2002. On the starting line there will also be Italy’s Elisa Rigaudo, last year’s event victor and overall IAAF Race Walking Challenge winner in 2004.

The form of Portuguese champion Susana Feitor is also improving and she should pose a threat after finishing third in the opening race in Tijuana, Mexico.

‘Robert the Great’

Four-time Olympic (50km - 96, 00, 04; 20km - 00) and champion Robert Korzeniowski who is now retired will of course have a VIP presence in Rio Maior but will also be working in the capacity of coach to Spain’s Francisco Fernandez, whose name we have already mentioned in this preview. Fernandez as well as his championship successes is also a former World record holder at the 20km distance.

Strongest competition ever

Jorge Miguel, responsible for the organisation in Rio Maior, has no doubts of the quality of Saturday’s field of competitors.

“This is the strongest competition ever.” With 100 competitors entered “even besides the Olympic champions there are many others with the greatest of talent which means that it is quite likely that the result in both races will be very close. It will be very difficult to predict who takes the victory. Everything is perfectly open”.

Paulo Costa for the IAAF