China's Liu Hong in the 20km race walk at the IAAF World Championships (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Beijing, China

Preview: women’s 20km race walk – IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015

Hosts China have a number of hopes for a medal on home soil at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 but their best is probably world record-holder Liu Hong.

Not only do the expectations of a nation rest on her slim shoulders after going into new territory for the event in the Spanish city of La Coruna earlier this year, trimming the world record by 26 seconds to 1:24:38, but only gold will do for Liu herself after winning World Championships bronze in 2009, silver in 2011 and then another bronze two years ago in Moscow.

According to her comments in the local media, she has recovered well from her world record race at the start of June 10 weeks ago, her last outing over any distance, and has had some good training sessions and expects to be at her best in Beijing.

It would seem then that the race is hers to lose but it would be unwise to dismiss the prospects of her compatriot Lu Xiuzhi, the second-fastest race walker on the entry list who set an Asian record of 1:25:12 at the Chinese Trials for the World Championships back in March, before Liu revised it further downwards.

Lu certainly is not in awe of Liu, having beaten her with a superb effort over the final kilometre at the Chinese National Games in 2013, the most prestigious domestic event in Chinese athletics, and more recently at the World Championships Trials on what will be the same course used for this event.

China's leading pair will be backed up with either Nie Jingjing or Qieyang Shenjie. Both women have broken 1:28 this year and, inspired by the crowds who are inevitably going to line the course adjacent to the Bird's Nest stadium, could place highly.

Indeed, a Chinese clean sweep can't be ruled out.

Following the late withdrawal of Russia’s Svetlana Vasilyeva, leaving the event without any Russian competitors, the European challenge is led by Italy’s Elenora Giorgi, who set a national record of 1:26:17 at the European Cup back in May.

The 25-year-old was 10th at the last World Championships and looks set for a big improvement in Beijing, with Italy eyeing a return to the podium in this event for the first time since 2001.

Czech Republic’s Anezka Drahotova finished three places in front of Giorgi in Moscow while still a teenager, memorably leading the race through the halfway point before paying the price for her audacious early pace.

Still only 20, the world junior 10,000m race walk champion could also be in contention for her first global championship medal as a senior having got a taste of success with a bronze medal at last year’s European Championships.

She clocked a national record of 1:26:53 at the European Cup and seems to have limitless potential for improving further.

Another European race walker with a chance of a medal is Ukraine's Lyudmyla Olyanovska, who aslo had a good European Cup, crossing the line in 1:27:09.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF