After visiting Oceania and North America, the IAAF Race Walking Challenge moves to Europe for the third meeting in this year’s series. A record number of 259 walkers from 40 countries are expected for the jubilee 35th edition of the Dudinska 50 in Slovakia on Saturday (19).
“I was surprised by the huge interest of athletes,” said event director Julius Nyarjas. "I do not remember a year when there were competitors from so many countries on the start since my 33 years within the organisation."
One of the reasons, according to Nyarjas, is the possibility to get Olympic qualification standards on the fast and good quality circuit in the city of Dudince.
“Race walkers from eleven South American countries are on the start list which is the impact of the Olympics in Brazil,” added Nyarjas. “Everyone wants to compete there and this race could be a salvation to fulfil the qualification criteria for some participants.”
The main event, the men's 50km, will be without world champion and multiple Dudinska 50 winner Matej Toth due to a minor leg injury. Last year, he won in 3:34:38, the third-fastest time in history.
“Unfortunately, I have to skip Dudince this year,” said Toth, who will still be at this year’s meeting as a special guest. "At the beginning of the training camp I had problems with my shin and tendons so I could not utilise the good training conditions in Johannesburg."
As has become traditional, there will also be a strong Polish contingent, as the 50km event will double up as their national championships, as is also the case for Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary.
The 2014 Dudinska 50 champion Rafal Augustyn, who also won in 2010, along with 2010 European silver medallist Grzegorz Sudol, Rafal Sikora and Lukasz Nowak, all from Poland, are expected to be among the main protagonists.
Augustyn finished second last year behind Toth in a personal best of 3:43:55 while Nowak was third 12 months ago.
However, Olympic silver medallist Erick Barrondo from Guatemala and Mexico’s Horacio Nava are expected to challenge the Europeans.
Bonfim experiments with 50km outing
Norway’s Erik Tysse, Greek record-holder Alexandros Papamihail, Brazilian 20km record-holder Caio Bonfim and top Korean Kim Hyun-Sub could also feature prominently towards the front of the race.
The appearance of Bonfim in the 50km will be closely followed back in Brazil. Best known as a 20km race walker and having finished sixth in Beijing last year, he has only raced once over 50km before – last November in California – but if all goes well on Saturday, this may herald a change of direction for the former South American youth and junior champion.
The men’s 20km will see, among others, 2009 world bronze medallist Eder Sanchez and Omar Segura, both from Mexico, up against Ireland’s 2013 world 50km champion Robert Heffernan of Ireland.
In the women’s 20km event, the favourites are defending champion Eleonora Giorgi of Italy and young Czech talent Anezka Drahotova, the world junior champion and European bronze medallist.
Racing over this distance for the first time in almost eight years, the 2004 Olympic champion Athanasia Tsoumeleka of Greece will use this race for her comeback to international competition while Portugal will be represented by Ana Cabecinha and Susana Feitor.
Experienced Italian Elisa Rigaudo, the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, will also have her first outing of the year and will be looking to qualify for her fourth consecutive Olympic Games.
Zuzana Trojakova for the IAAF