Heading into Bydgoszcz, Chinese race walker Ma Zhenxia looked to be one of the biggest favourites of the championships.
The 17-year-old has won three major age-group titles in a row, taking gold over 5000m at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games and the IAAF World Youth Championships Cali 2015, and more recently in the junior 10km at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Rome 2016.
But last month she finished a distant fifth in a domestic field over 10km, clocking 48:24. Not only was it nearly four minutes shy of the personal best she set earlier this year, but it also puts something of a question mark over her form heading into Bydgoszcz.
If, however, it was nothing more than a blip, then Ma will still start as favourite; her past record is too good to write off on the back of one bad race.
Mexico’s Youth Olympic silver medallist Valeria Ortuno took bronze in Rome earlier this year, setting a North American U20 record of 45:28. She followed it two weeks later with a continental age-group record over 20km, clocking 1:36:40 in Naumburg. If she makes it on to the podium in Bydgoszcz, she would become the first Mexican woman to win a medal at the IAAF World U20 Championships.
Italy’s Noemi Stella finished behind Ma and Ortuno at both the 2014 Youth Olympics and this year’s World Race Walking Team Championships. The 2013 world U18 bronze medallist will once again be expected to challenge for the medals.
Ethiopia’s Yehualeye Beletew could be the underdog. The 17-year-old took silver at the 2015 African Junior Championships and last month earned the same colour medal over 20km at the senior African Championships, clocking an African U20 record of 1:31:58 and earning a spot on Ethiopia’s team for the Olympic Games in the process.
Australian duo Clara Smith and Tayla Paige Billington should also feature among the lead pack, along with Finland’s Taika Nummi, China’s Jiang Shanshan and Japan’s Yukiho Mizoguchi.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF