Reigning 50 km Olympic champion Alex Schwazer and Vera Santos of Portugal took the honours at the 53rd edition of the famous Coppa Città di Sesto San Giovanni IAAF Race Walking Challenge race on Saturday (1).
The Sud Tyrol walking star cruised to a dominating win in 1:20:29 beating 2007 Sesto winner Erik Tysse from Norway, who added another podium in Sesto finishing runner-up in 1:21:29 ahead of France’s reigning European 50 km champion Yohan Diniz. Schwazer became the first Italian to win in Sesto San Giovanni since 2004 when local favourite Alessandro Gandellini beat Ivano Brugnetti.
The men’s race set off from the Pino Dordoni Stadium at 4 pm on a warm and humid afternoon. The leading pack featuring Schwazer, Tysse, Diniz, Ireland’s Robert Heffernan and Brazilian Moacir Zimmermann started conservately in the first part reaching the 5 km in 20:27.
Schwazer, who broke the 20 km Italian record in Lugano with 1:18:24 last March, broke away at 6 km when he launched his decisive attack. He reached the 10 km mark in 40:17 (with a 5 km split between 5 and 10 km clocked in 19:48).
Schwazer increased his lead on Tysse from 18 seconds at 10 km to 25 seconds at 12 km. His margin on the Norweagian grew to 30 seconds at 15 km which he passed in 1:00:19 (19:59 between 10 to 15 km). Diniz was caught by Tunisia’s Hassanine Sbai at 14 km. The Frenchman managed to respond clinching third place in the final 500 metres crossing the finish-line in 1:22:44, holding off Sbai by seven seconds.
The final 5 km were a stroll in the park for Schwazer who received a strong support along the course from his famous girlfriend Carolina Kostner, the European Ice Skating Champion and his fans coming from Süd Tyrol who follow him in every race. The Italian who competed more frequently over shorter distances, entered the Pino Dordoni Stadium with a gap of one minute over Tysse (fifth at the Olympic Games in Bejing in the 50 km). He crossed the finish-line in 1:20:29, a good result in humid weather conditions.
“In Lugano I wanted to clock a fast time. Today my goal was to win and not to walk a fast time. It is difficult to walk fast times in Sesto. It’s a race with a great history,” said Schwazer. “I was unsure about my shape after training hard at altitude in Val Senales. I stayed in the pack at the beginning of the race. Then I realized that I was in good shape and I launched my attack. It was not so easy as it seemed.”
Schwazer will return to Val Senales where he stays until 6 May, when he leaves to Mexico. He will train at altitude there to be ready for the World Cup in Chihuahua where he plans to compete in the 50 km. His splendid 1:18:24 set in Lugano where he cancelled Maurizio Damilano’s national record by 30 seconds opened to him the possibility of a 20 km-50 km double at this summer’s European Championships in Barcelona, although it seems unlikely as the 50 km race takes place on 30th July only three days after the 20 km. “My main race is the 50 km. I will take a definitive decision about a possible double in Barcelona after my return from Mexico.”
Tysse achieved his fourth podium in Sesto San Giovanni (first in 2007, third in 2006 and 2008) finishing second. “It was a very good competition. The race started slowly because of the high humidity. It was important to finish in the top-three. Alex made a very strong race. I will compete in the 20 km in both Chihuahua and Barcelona,” said Tysse.
Vera Santos became the first Portuguese woman in history to take the win at the Coppa Città di Sesto San Giovanni, the Italian leg of the IAAF Walking Challenge which celebrated the 31st edition of the women’s race. Santos narrowly missed her own PB clocking a solid 1:28:29 on a overcast morning in Sesto San Giovanni on the outskirts of Milan. It was the second win in a row for the 28-year-old Portuguese after the first place on home-turf in Rio Major. Santos beat German Melanie Seeger by 51 seconds after a dominating race from the 10 km. Johanna Jackson from Great Britain finished third in 1:32:05.
Santos and Seeger took the early lead during the three laps inside the Pino Dordoni athletics stadium closely followed by Berlin’s World silver medallist Olive Loughnane from Ireland and China’s World Junior bronze medallist Li Yanfei who was planning to walk only the first half as a test before the Chihuahua IAAF World Cup.
Santos and Li (winner in the Lugano Memorial Albisetti on 14th March) took the initiative from the early kilometres and walked in the front at 5 km which they passed in 22:09. Li and Santos engaged a neck-to-neck race until the 10 km, while Seeger managed to close the gap on the leading group.
After Li went through the halfway mark in 44:03, she dropped out according to plans and Santos remained in the front alone with a lead of 15 seconds over Seeger. The Portuguese, third at the 2008 IAAF World Cup in Cheboksary, increased her lead over Seeger to 29 seconds at the 15 km (1:06:21 to 1:06:50 for the German). This attack proved to be decisive for the Portuguese who continued to push the pace opening up a lead of over 50 seconds in the final five kilometres. Olive Loughnane was disqualified at 15 km. Santos romped home in the Sesto athletics stadium in 1:28:29, the second fastest time of her career after her PB of 1:28:14 set in 2008. For Santos it’s the fifth fastest time in the world this year.
“I am still working hard to be in top form for Chihuahua. The World Cup will be held at altitude which may become a negative factor for me. My biggest goal is the European Championships in Barcelona this summer,” said Santos.
Seeger, who received two warnings at 12 km, did not take any risks and managed to defend her second place dipping under 1:30 with 1:29:20. The German, who gave birth to her daughter Helena last year, had already set the qualifing time for the European Championships in Barcelona with her 1:30:11 in her previous race in Rio Major where she finished second behind Santos.
“I enjoyed this race. The course was fast and there were a lot of spectators to support us. I have not set goals in my comeback year. I won’t go to Chihuahua as the German Federation will not send a team. Before the European Championships in Barcelona I am planning to compete in La Coruna. It may be hot this summer in Barcelona but I am not afraid of hot weather,” said Seeger.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
Leading Results from the Coppa Città di Sesto San Giovanni: