Elena Lashmanova in the women's 20km Race Walk at the IAAF World Championships Moscow 2013 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Moscow, Russia

Race walking queen Elena puts her rivals to the lash again despite faulty finish

Apart from a minor hiccup involving a misjudged finish, almost everything went completely according to plan for Russia’s Elena Lashmanova as she added the IAAF World Championship 20km Race Walk title to the Olympic gold she won almost exactly year ago to the day in London. 

Entering the stadium with a seemingly formidable lead, the 21-year-old World record-holder raced down the home straight to the loud cheers of the crowd to get Russia's seventh consecutive gold in the event at the vWorld Championships.

However, as she crossed the finish line, incredibly, she stopped her wrist watch and slowed down believing she had finished. Apparently, she was unaware she had another 400 metres to cover. 

Had it not been for the spectators and her friends animatedly pointing out her mistake she would likely have broken into a jog and been disqualified.

Nonetheless, her error cost her precious time as her compatriot Anisya Kirdyapina rapidly closed the gap.

With the loss of momentum, what would have been a comfortable winning margin of close to 30 seconds dwindled to just three by the time she reached the finish line for real. 

“I was shocked,” revealed Lashmanova. “I hadn’t watched the men’s race so I didn’t see how the race finished. 

“I was turning around so I finished actually twice, and I thought she (Kirdyapkina) was closer and closer but I had enough speed.”

The Russian coaches had prepared their walkers well for the race, providing essential tactical advice. They had told them to not let the leaders get away at any time. In the early stages, they were content to follow racers from other nations, but when Kirdyapkina went to the front, Lashmanova said that was a challenge she had to respond to.

“The trainer told me about distance,” said Lashmanova, “and about tactics and she talked to every one of us; but in the race we tried to think about technique and, in the early stages, not to lose track of the leaders from Czech Republic and another girl, although I don’t remember which country she was from.

“It was a task to try and catch them. I managed with Anisya to reach them.

“Then, when we were going together, Anisya was making the pace and I was afraid I couldn’t hold on. However, I managed and that was the moment that was most difficult to keep up.”

Coming into the World Championships as the reigning Olympic champion added to the pressure of racing in her homeland.

“Of course, I was worried like before any race but being in Moscow, it was especially exciting. All my relatives were present on the course or watching on television, that’s why I was really worried," she said with a smile, when asked whether she was concerned about having a metaphorical target on her back after her London triumph. 

Lashmanova is in her final year of biochemistry studies at Mordovian State University is Saransk, the capital of the region which includes Moscow.

Asked how life has changed since the Olympic Games, and if she has acquired some wealth like other Olympic champions, she smiles ever so humbly before breaking into a laugh.

“My life has changed (in the last year),” she admitted. “There are many interviews and I am invited to some functions but I cannot say I am richer."

Being at a a serious university and the world’s best race walker takes up the majority of her time; but she always fit into her schedule things of importance.

“As you know we don’t have much free time,” she laments. “After training I try to spend time with my relatives, with my niece. I walk with her in my free time. I especially like taking her to kindergarten. I like listening to music, Russian pop music, not rock, and I watch some television. Most of the time we are trying to recover from training as we have a very strict regime.”

Now the holder of both Olympic and World titles at the age of 21, the pressure to continue to bring glory to Russia could be intense but she appears rather relaxed about this situation.

“Each of us tries to keep up, not to give up,” she declared. “The most difficult thing is for the leader in any sport (to continue winning) because we are afraid of our rivals. Each of them can be so well trained that they can compete with you; that’s why we can expect a breakthrough from any of them. Thank God we managed this time and we kept first and second place.”

Paul Gains for the IAAF