Elena Lashmanova on her way to victory in Sesto San Giovanni (© Giancarlo Colombo)
Olympic 20km race walk champion Yelena Lashmanova won unopposed at the Coppa Città di Sesto San Giovanni, the Italian leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge., while Matej Toth of the Slovak Republic triumphed in the men’s race.
Lashmanova, the 20km World record-holder, finished in 1:32:07 to beat Portugal’s Ines Henriquez (1:33:06) by almost exactly one minute as Henriques’ compatriot Ana Cabecinha was third (1:33:18).
After setting a lifetime best of 1:20:14 in his last race, Toth found 1:22:02 enough on this occasion to take the victory, 27 seconds ahead of runner-up Jakub Jelonek from Poland, while Australian Dane Bird-Smith took third place in 1:23:18.
Another race, another win for Lashmanova
The Portuguese pair of Henriques and Cabecinha took the early lead with Australian Jessica Rothwell, Spaniard Julia Takacs and Japanese Kumi Otoshi in the first few kilometres, while Lashmanova chose a more conservative tactic and stayed behind the early leaders, although she was always in control. Rothwell led the pack through 5km in 23:45 with Henriques and Cabecinha right behind.
The leaders maintained a conservative pace due to the warm and humid weather, as Henriques went through the half-way mark in 47:11 (1:34 pace). With less than 10km to go, the front group had been whittled down to just five athletes – Henriques, Cabecinha, Lashmanova, Otoshi and young Czech rising star Lucie Pelantova.
The race really heated up at 12km when four women – Henriques, Cabecinha, Lashmanova and Otoshi – pulled away from Pelantova. After the quartet passed 15km in 1:10:26, Lashmanova began pushing the pace and broke away with two laps to go.
The 20-year-old Russian, who last year won the IAAF World Cup in Saransk and beat three-time World champion Olga Kanishkina at the Olympic Games with a World record of 1:25:02, increased her pace, opening up a huge gap over Henriques and Cabecinha with the three fastest km splits of the race (4:22 at 17km, 4:15 at 18km and 4:13 at 19km).
Her final time of 1:32:07 was a far cry from her World record, but on a day where conditions were not conducive to fast times, Lashmanova’s priority was simply to ensure she crossed the line in first place, extending her winning streak to five.
“I did not think about the time, the main thing was to win,” said a delighted Lashmanova. “I really enjoyed the race. I pushed the pace in the final lap and I realised there that I could take the win.”
The Russian national anthem sounded in the Pino Dordoni athletics stadium, perhaps giving a preview of what to expect at this summer’s IAAF World Championships at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
“I started walking at the age of 13 in my city Saransk near the Volga River,” explained Lashmanova. “My father is a car driver. My elder brother is 23 years old and is married. My boyfriend is also a good athlete.
“I am grateful to Italy as I won my first major title here, at the 2009 World Youth Championships in Bressanone,” she added. “I have great memories of Sudtyrol.”
Late burst gets Toth the victory
Matej Toth, Jakub Jelonek, Dane Bird Smith, Yusuke Suzuki from Japan and Rafal Augustyn from Poland formed the leading group who pulled away from the rest of the field in the early stages of the race, passing through 5km in 20:43.
Joao Vieira from Portugal, winner in Rio Major this year, led the chasing pack which featured 2011 World bronze medallist Fernando Luiz Lopez, and they passed 5km in 21:02.
Toth, Jelonek, Suzuki and Bird-Smith broke away at 9km before reaching the half-way mark in 41:15. With a 4:04 split at 11km, 20-year-old Bird-Smith was dropped as Toth, Suzuki and Jelonek surged ahead.
Toth and Jelonek continued to push the pace and with a 4:02 split at 15km they dropped Suzuki, who finished third in this race last year. With 3km to go Toth maintained his lead, closely followed by Jelonek.
Toth finally managed to drop Jelonek on the final lap with a decisive surge and with a strong finish he opened up a gap of more than 20 seconds to romp home in 1:22:02, finishing at the athletics track named after the late 1952 Olympic 50km champion Pino Dordoni.
“For me this race was preparation for the European Cup in Dudince,” explained the Slovak winner, who is currently training in the Italian town of Livigno. “It was an easy race, and when it was down to just me and Jakub I felt good.
“Dudince is very important for me as it is near my home town,” he added. “I will compete in the 20km at the European Cup, but in Moscow I will take part in the 50km. I started training in January and I’m in good shape – two weeks ago I set a 20km PB in Podebrady. My form is improving step by step.”
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
LEADING RESULTS (20km race walk)
1 Matej Toth (SVK) 1:22:02
2 Jakub Jelonec (POL) 1:22:29
3 Dane Bird Smith (AUS) 1:23:18
4 Yusuke Suzuki (JPN) 1:24:03
5 Joao Vieira (POR) 1:24:28
6 Rafal Augustyn (POL) 1:24:46
7 Rhydian Cowley (AUS) 1:25:45
8 Fernando Luis Lopez (COL) 1:25:53
9 Dzianis Simanovich (BLR) 1:26:30
10 Emerson Esnal Hernandez (ESA) 1:26:34
1 Yelena Lashmanova (RUS) 1:32:07
2 Ines Henriques (POR) 1:33:06
3 Ana Cabecinha (POR) 1:33:18
4 Kumi Otoshi (JPN) 1:33:46
5 Lucie Pelantova (CZE) 1:33:54
6 Jessica Rothwell (AUS) 1:34:13
7 Ainhoa Pinedo (ESP) 1:34:49
8 Vera Santos (POR) 1:35:20
9 Julia Takacs (ESP) 1:35:41
10 Masumi Fuchise (JPN) 1:38:18