The 23rd IAAF World Race Walking Cup takes place this weekend (Sat 10 and Sun 11 May) in the race walking mad city of Cheboksary, Russia. When the European Cup of Race Walking was held in the city in 2003 the streets were packed with over 50,000 spectators.
Five races (men’s 50km, men’s and women’s 20km and junior men’s and women’s 10km) will be contested this weekend around a 2km loop road course, and we now preview the Women’s events.
There will be two groups in the women’s 20km – the Russians up front – and a second bunch trying to hang on to their coat-tails.
That doesn’t include the rest of the field peering into the distance until a mass of red vests come back at them frequently on the other side of the 2k loop.
The second group has been deprived of Norway’s Kjersti Plätzer, who pulled out injured on Wednesday – no doubt a victim to the impressive string of IAAF Walking Challenge wins she’s garnered for herself this year already.
Clearly the Sesto San Giovanni win in Italy last weekend was a race too far for the 36-year-old Norwegian, and it’s going to be a tough call asking someone else to mix it with the home nation.
It’s also difficult to see past Olga Kaniskina as the one to delight a partisan crowd in Cheboksary.
The World champion walked from the front in Osaka last year, and wavered not a jot on her way to a gold medal in steamy conditions.
And then in February she walked a world best that won’t be ratified for want of appropriate judges in the Russian winter championships at Adler.
For all that, her 1:25:11 at the seaside resort drew gasps from her opponents. Although the 23-year-old wears the worried look of a struggler from the gun, it’s those behind her that have the concerns.
The bridesmaids should be team-mates, the Tatyanas Shemyakina and Sibileva, who at Adler improved their PBs by some margin, and will be part of a select group just about able to focus on Kaniskina’s disappearing back.
If first is everything, then at least the second group will be intriguing.
As ever, the Chinese will be competitive, providing they don’t collect judges’ DQ cards, and the Italian team headed by European bronze medallist Elisa Rigaudo, could also be on the podium.
Spaniard Maria Vasco was the one brave soul willing to chase Kaniskina in Osaka and duly won silver, while Sabine Zimmer and Melanie Seeger will boost German hopes of at least one of them in the top 10, and 2005 World bronze medallist Susana Feitor is returning to form after injury.
The walking star of 2007, Ryta Turava, is entered. But the Belarussian hasn’t competed since summer last year through injury, and will definitely be ring-rusty if pitched back in this company.
Likewise, the return of Greece’s Olympic champion Athanasia Tsoumeleka to the World Cup will see if she has taken motherhood in her stride after giving birth to a baby girl in November, 2006.
So far, the Greek appears to have managed the trick of combining toddler duties with training. She gained fourth in Rio Maior on her international comeback, and although Plätzer found the extra when needed at Sesto, Tsoumeleka hung on for second.
The snag is that if Kaniskina walks anywhere near her best, a repeat of the Greek’s time last weekend will see her at one end of the course just as the Russian raises her arms going through the finish line at the other.
Junior Women’s 10km
Walking World records at every age and distance have come and gone in the last 15 years bar one – the junior women’s 10km. But it doesn’t look as if Hongmiao Gao’s 41:57 set in September 1993 is in danger this weekend.
Mind you, if host nation Russia could have selected 10 athletes they would probably have been the same ones to fill up the 2008 top ten fastest times so far.
The Black Sea resort of Adler is the single venue listed in the rankings, and likewise 23 February is the only date a record-keeper needs to know.
That single race was the yardstick providing the three-strong Russian team headed by Tatyana Kalmykova, who won in 42:31.
There are a few first-timers to the sport among the 50+ entrants. But that doesn’t include the 18-year-old, who has climbed steadily until this year when she hacked 1:56 from her PB – or somewhere close to 500 metres ahead of her 2007 times.
Kalmykova was only two seconds ahead of Irina Yumanova in Adler (43:31), who in turn held off Elmira Alembekova by another 18 seconds.
There isn’t anyone else toeing the line within three minutes of the Russian trio, although the next best is an Australian, Jess Rothwell, whose 45:45 in February suggests her country might have someone ready to pick up the mantle from Jane Saville when the Olympic bronze medalist finally hangs up her racing shoes.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF