Yang Jiayu at the 2018 World Race Walking Team Championships (© Getty Images)
The shock of the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22 on 4-5 March would be a women’s 20km win from anywhere but China, both team and individually.
The top five best times of the year all come from those wearing a red vest, and in Yang Jiayu they boast the world record-holder from 2021 when she recorded an amazing 1:23:49 in Huangshan.
The 2017 world champion not only shattered compatriot Liu Hong’s mark by 49 seconds last March - she did it by walking solo from the gun.
China dominated the last World Race Walking Team Championships in 2018 with 12 medals in all colours, four more than nearest challengers, Japan.
More of the same in Muscat is all but guaranteed.
Yang, Ma Zhenxia, Ma Li and Yang Liujing all recorded times comfortably under 1:30:00 in Nanjing at the end of January. Only Qiji Zhuoma was outside the women’s marker for world-class times, and even then the 23-year-old hardly let the side down with 1:30:26.
Yang’s 1:27:14 win was little more than an ice breaker, and only the unforeseen can prevent another triumph in Oman.
Joining them in Muscat, Mexico’s Alegna Gonzalez will try to better her 1:28:40 PB after recording 1:31:38 on home soil in Coatzacoalcos at the end of January. Kimberly Garcia from Peru is also in good form with a 1:32:00 clocking this year.
Australian Clara Smith could make her team very happy by following up her 1:33:37 PB in Adelaide on 13 February with another in Oman.
Next in line is a walker from a country with little race walking success thus far. Souad Azzi notched an Algerian record 1:33:39 at the beginning of February to go with her U20 10,000m national record. The 22-year-old might just like the heat in Muscat to move her personal record up a notch.
Likewise, Puerto Rico has yet to make its mark at heel-and-toe. But in 21-year-old Rachelle De Orbeta they have a race walker who took an axe to her PB when chopping more than two minutes out of it in less than a year to record 1:33:41 in February at the Spanish Championships.
Paul Warburton for World Athletics