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Miguel Angel Lopez wins the 20km race walk at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Preview: men's 20km race walk – Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Miguel Angel Lopez produced one of the shocks of the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 when the Spaniard came through strongly over the last two kilometres to leave the highly-rated Chinese race walkers floundering in his wake on their home soil.

In Rio, Lopez will face the same trio of Chinese representatives that he defeated in Beijing: silver medallist Wang Zhen, fifth-placed Cai Zelin and Olympic champion Chen Ding, who was ninth in Beijing.

The question is, can lightning strike twice? Lopez certainly thinks so.

“I’m going to Rio to fight for the gold medal,” said Lopez, as he departed for Brazil on Friday. "I’m not going to settle for a silver or bronze. OK, if I’ve given everything and get the silver then I can be happy but logically, at this stage, it’s only gold I’m interested in.

“The Chinese walkers still have to be the favourites,” he added, perhaps trying to take a bit of the pressure off being the focus of attention as Spain seeks its first athletics gold medal at the Olympics since it staged the Games in 1992. “However, I’ve prepared well and happy with the work that I’ve done.”

Although minor injuries earlier in the season restricted him to a modest 33rd place at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships in Rome in early May, he improved to third at the prestigious IAAF World Race Walking Challenge meeting in La Coruna three weeks later.

More significantly, though, he recently clocked 38:06.28 – the fourth-fastest time in history – in the 10,000m race walk to win the Spanish title in Gijon.

Aside from Lopez, the man showing the best current form in this event appears to be Olympic bronze medallist Wang, who has won five of his past six outings over this distance – and he is unbeaten over any distance in 2016 – since he won the Asian Games title in September 2014, the only blip being his second place in Beijing.

This year, Wang has trotted out wins in his own Olympic trials, Rome and La Coruna.

Chen finished second in the Olympic trials but then failed to finish in Rome. Over the past few years injuries have meant he has struggled to maintain any sort of consistency, but no man has ever successfully defended his Olympic title at this event and this surely is a huge motivation for the man who turned 24 on Friday.

Cai is the rather unheralded member of the trio, at least internationally, but also showed he was in good form in May with his second-place finish in Rome. After just missing out on the podium in London, finishing fourth, he has plenty of motivation of his own.

Japan has sent three good race walkers to Rio, even if world record-holder Yusuke Suzuki is missing.

World leader Eiki Takahashi clocked 1:18:26 when winning the Japanese title in February but then finished back in 12th place in Rome and admittedly has few international credentials, finishing 47th in Beijing last summer.

Takahashi will be accompanied by Isamu Fujisawa and Daisuke Matsunaga, who have both gone under 1:19:00 this year, the latter winning the Asian 20km title in March.

Getting the biggest cheer though, around the 2km loop by the coast at Pontal, will be local hope Caio Bonfim, who is a consistent race walker at the big championships, finishing sixth in Beijing last year and eighth in Rome three months ago.

Also worthy of medal consideration are Canada's world bronze medallist Ben Thorne, his compatriot and national record-holder Inaki Gomez, Sweden’s rapidly improving Perseus Karlstrom, Germany’s Christpher Linke, Australia’s Dane Bird-Smith and Mexico’s Ever Palma, all of whom have gone under 1:20:00 this year.

This event will also count towards the IAAF World Race Walking Challenge and is the last competition on the 2016 calendar.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF