Gold medalist Olga Kaniskina of Russia celebrates as she crosses the finish line during the women's 20km race walk during day five (Getty Images) © Copyright

Women's 20 Kilometres Race Walk - PREVIEW

This will be just the sixth women’s walking race ever at the Olympics, but already in the short history of the event at the Games, the 20km Race Walk could witness its first back-to-back champion.

Olga Kaniskina is arguably one of the most dominant athletes in the world at present. The 27-year-old Russian has won the past four global titles in the 20km walk, stretching back to 2007 when she won her first of three World Championship gold medals, as well as the Olympic gold in 2008. A second Olympic title would cement her status as perhaps the greatest ever female race walker.

But is her reign set to come to an end? Indeed, Kaniskina’s toughest opposition could come from her own country as she will be up against world bronze medallist Anisya Kirdyapkina and rising star Yelena Lashmanova.

Kirdyapkina knows what it is like to defeat Kaniskina, having done so comfortably two years ago at the Russian Championships. But it is Lashmanova that the defending champion will be more worried about.

Aged just 19, Lashmanova decisively beat Kaniskina at the World Cup in May, finishing almost a minute ahead of her more experienced rival. It was a crushing defeat for Kaniskina, who was the poster girl for the event held in her home town of Saransk, where she is treated like a superstar. Afterwards Kaniskina insisted that she was on course to defend her title in London.

But Lashmanova will not be a push-over. She is undefeated in championship races, having won gold medals at the 2009 World Youth Championships, 2010 World Junior Championships, 2011 European Junior Championships and 2011 European Cup. Earlier this year in her first ever race over 20km, she clocked a superb 1:26:30. She found her groove with her World Cup victory and will now be looking for bigger and better things. Should she take gold, Lashmanova will become the youngest ever Olympic race walking champion, male or female.

Should any of the Russians falter, China’s Liu Hong will be set to capitalise. The 25-year-old has been quietly climbing up the ranks in her past few major championship appearances – fourth in Beijing in 2008, followed by World bronze in 2009 then silver at last year’s World Championships. Should that trend continue, Liu could be looking at gold in London. She is in the form of her life too, having won two of the IAAF World Race Walking Challenge meets and setting an Asian record of 1:25:46 in the first of those in Taicang.

Outside of the race-walking powerhouses that are Russia and China, María José Poves could strike her first major medal at the age of 34. The Spaniard has been in the form of her life, having set a PB of 1:28:15 and taking bronze at the World Cup. Her team-mates Beatriz Pascual and Maria Vasco will also be in contention.

Italy’s Elisa Rigaudo took bronze in Beijing four years ago and showed she’s still a force with her fourth-place finish at last year’s World Championships. Other contenders include Australia’s Claire Tallent, Guatemala’s Mirna Ortiz and Portugal’s Ana Cabecinha.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF