Voyevodin breaks the tape in Torino (Getty Images Mike Finn-Kelcey) © Copyright

World Race Walking Cup – Event Preview Men’s 50km

Walking 20km and recovering for the Olympics is one thing - going full steam for a further 30km is quite another.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Athens’ favourite Robert Korzeniowski is giving the longer distance at Naumburg a miss.

So is the fastest man this year, Yucheng Han, who has elected to race 20km in the former DDR town with a long history of walking.

However, Han has paved the way for second ranked Shucai Xing to become the third Chinese man to lift a World Walking Cup title following Li Ziwen’s 20km and Zhao Yongshen’s 50km triumphs in Beijing nine years ago.

Xing’s 3:40:22 at just 20, clearly displayed the depth of talent in the country of a billion people. But Chinese teams have a hit-and-miss history in the World Cup, and if their latest protégés falter, the defending champion is also on the start list.

Aleksey Voyevodin never faltered from first to last through the heart of Turin, although German Skurygin, also part of a strong Russian team, was never more than two minutes behind throughout.

Both were in excellent form at the Russian walks at Adler in February at the shorter 35km distance, where precocious talent Vladimir Kanaykin established a world best.

Incidentally, if it does all go wrong for Voyevodin, there’s a second chance for a medal in the house as his wife, Yuliya, is entered in the women’s 20km.

The openness of the event, apart from those already mentioned, is underlined by the absence of the entire Mexican team who qualified for the Olympics in Tijuana in March. The strong walking nation has sent a largely inexperienced squad to Naumburg.

Anybody who has walked 50km in the last two months may yet be feeling it in the legs, so it leaves the door open for somebody with experience, but one yet to go the full distance this year.

Aigar Fadejevs has already got an Olympic silver when he finished behind Korzeniowski in 2000, and nobody in athletics could have felt anything but sympathy for the Latvian when Edgar Hernandez passed him for bronze in the World Championships in Edmonton in 2001, as both duelled the last 100 metres.

The 1999 World Cup winner Sergey Korepanov is also in good form, and there is an interesting step-up in distance from Julio Martinez.

The Guatemalan was the World record holder at 20km as recently as 2000, but has more than suffered his fair share of disqualifications at major meets.

If he can harness his undoubted speed to a technique which satisfies the judges, he may yet make the transition in the same way that Korzeniowski has.

The real unknown is the weather.

Walking 50km in heat or unlikely cold, can be a determining factor, and if the elements intervene in a race without too many favourites, the finish podium in Naumburg is set to see more new names on the 43 year-old roll of honour.