Wang Kaihua, Koki Ikeda and Toshikazu Yamanishi in action at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018 (© Getty Images)
In one of the most wide-open events on the programme at the IAAF World Athletics Championship Doha 2019, more than a dozen men could make serious claims to challenge for the 20km race walk title.
Factor in the added complication of the 11:30pm start, the likely heat and humidity of Doha and the various nuances of race walking, then picking a potential winner is a head-scratching business.
The Japanese athletes – who will be keen to make a statement less than a year out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – dominate the world lists with Toshikazu Yamanishi one of the star performers of the year. The 23-year-old claimed a blistering world-leading mark of 1:17:15 to climb to fourth on the world all-time list en route to the Asian title in Nomi in March. He then proved this was no fluke by defeating a world-class field in La Coruna in a time of 1:17:41.
His compatriot Koki Ikeda, the 2018 IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships 20km gold medallist, posted 1:17:25 for third behind Yamanishi in Nomi. Aged just 21, Ikeda claimed the World University Games title in Naples in July and is another formidable opponent from the Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese challenge is rounded out by national champion Eiki Takahashi (1:18:00).
Europe will be expected to mount a strong challenge, led by the 2018 World Race Walking Team Championship bronze medallist Massimo Stano. The Italian race walker, who also finished fourth at the 2018 European Championships, produced a huge breakthrough when setting a national record of 1:17:45 for second in La Coruna in June and he will be among the podium contenders in Doha.
Watch out too for experienced Swede Perseus Karlstrom, winner of three out of four 20km race walks this year. The 29-year-old swept to victory in the European Cup, and set a noteworthy national record of 1:18:07 for fourth in La Coruna.
Christopher Linke, who was fifth at the 2016 Olympic Games and 2017 World Championships, is another consistent performer. His German record of 1:18:42 for sixth in La Coruna marks him out as another to watch on the Doha corniche.
The Spanish one-two from last year’s European Championships – Alvaro Martin and Diego Garcia Carrera – are also entered and should not be discounted.
Vasiliy Mizinov, 21, authorised neutral athlete, also boasts a strong championship pedigree, winning the European bronze medal last year and gold at the European U23 Championships in July.
China is one of the powerhouse race walking nations and expect their athletes to be prominent in Doha. Leading the way is Olympic silver medallist Cai Zelin, who produced a season’s best of 1:19:36 for second in Huangshan. Wang Kaihua (1:19:01) finished one place ahead of Cai in Huangshan and the Asian Games champion is another likely to feature on the streets of Doha.
Colombia’s Eider Arevalo won’t be able to defend his world title after fracturing his collar bone during a recent training session.
Other names to watch from the Americas include Brazil's world bronze medallist Caio Bonfim, who placed fourth in front of his home supporters at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Pan American champion Brian Pintado of Ecuador, who finished fifth at last year’s World Race Walking Team Championship, is another to be respected.
Australia’s Olympic bronze medallist and Commonwealth champion Dane Bird-Smith could also mount a threat.
Portugal’s evergreen Joao Vieira, 43, is set to make his 11th successive World Championships appearance.
Steve Landells for the IAAF