Jefferson Perez winning the 1996 Olympic Games 20km race walk (© Getty Images)
The 19th edition of the IAAF World Racing Walking Cup - which takes place in Deauville-Mezidon (France) this weekend - is set to be the biggest ever. No fewer than 57 countries, a massive increase on the 45 who signed up for the previous edition, have entered teams for this showpiece event of the race walkers’ calendar.
But as well as quantity, the World Race Walking Cup can boast quality too, with the world’s elite all gathered in strength.
Probably the most illustrious name is that of Robert Korzeniowski (Poland), the 50km specialist who won the 1996 Olympic title, the 1997 World Championship title and last year’s European title as well. In Deauville-Mezidon, the Pole drops down to the 20km where he faces the challenge of last year’s European Champion Ilya Markov (Russia) and Daniel Garcia (Mexico) who was 20km World Champion in Athens in 1997 and second behind Jefferson Perez in the World RW Cup two years ago.
Perez, the Ecuadorian who became the youngest ever Olympic walking champion after winning the 20km in Atlanta, will contest the 50km where he will be pushed hard by Finland’s Valentin Kononen, the 1995 World Champion at 50km, Mexico’s seasoned campaigner Carlos Mercenario and Spain’s Jesús Angel García, the defending champion.
Garcia, who won the World Championship 50km gold in 1993, will line up alongside his team mate Valentí Massana, who won the 20km gold in 1993 but has now "moved up." Another to do the same thing is 1995 20km World Champion Michele Didoni, who heads the Italian challenge.
For the women, the innovation of 1999 is that they will compete over 20km rather than the traditional 10km.
Among the leading contenders are Hongmiao Gao (China), winner of the 10km at the last edition in Podebrady, and Italy’s Annarita Sidoti, who was crowned World Champion in Athens ‘97. Australia are also fielding a strong team headed by Commonwealth champion Jane Saville and Kerry Saxby-Junna, who has set numerous world records in a long career.