of the Men's 50 Kilometres
By Mark Butler
So strong is the Mexican squad that Miguel Rodríguez, their number one last year, is the slowest of their team this year. Rodríguez was only sixth in the 50K race during the Mexican "Walking Week" held last month at altitude in Naucalpan. The race was won comfortably by Joel Sánchez in 3:49:51; he had not previously broken four hours. Second in that race was Carlos Mercenario, who looks set to add to his glittering record in World Race Walking Cups; he already has three won the 50K twice and 20K once, a unique achievement. With three to score, it will take a lot to stop the Mexicans regaining the 50K trophy they lost in 1997.
Olympic 20K Champion Jefferson Pérez (ECU) has hopes of emulating Mercenario's feat of wins at both World Cup distances. He won the 20K in 1987 and is entered for the 50K this year, but has not yet completed the distance competitively; he retired at 42K in his début at last year's Pan-American Cup in Miami.
In the absence of Robert Korzeniowski (POL), the European Challenge will be let by Budapest silver and bronze medallists Valentin Kononen (FIN), Andrey Plotnikov (RUS) along with defending Champion Jesús Angel García (ESP). García, who won so impressively in Podebrady, is part of a useful Spanish squad including rising star Mikel Odriozola. None of the top Italians have raced of 50K this year but Giovanni Perricelli - second in Naples at 30K this season - looks to be his country's best hope. Similarly the Russian 35K winter championship also provided a pointer. It was won by Yevgeniy Shmalyuk (23), who will be making his 50K début in the World Cup.
The world's fastest 50K time of 1999, 3:48:42, was set by Daniel Plaza when winning the Spanish Championships, but he has opted to contest the shorter distance in Mézidon.