Elena Lashmanova in the women's 20km Race Walk at the IAAF World Championships Moscow 2013 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Report Moscow, Russia

Report: Women’s 20km Race Walk – Moscow 2013

In a dramatic and slightly chaotic finale to the Women's 20km Race Walk, Elena Lashmanova led home a Russian one-two to add the World title to the Olympic title she won in London last year.

However, in a state of confusion the 21-year-old, who became the youngest ever winner of this title since it has been held over 20km, believed she had crossed the 'finish line' when she still had another 400m to complete.

Momentarily celebrating her success, she was then told to carry on a further lap of the Luzhniki Stadium, only to make the same mistake again on the top bend. When she final crossed the line 200 metres later, she was relieved to take the race victory – just three seconds clear of her fast-finishing countrywoman Anisya Kirdyapkina, who upgraded to silver on the bronze she won at the last edition in Daegu.

There was also drama in the battle for the bottom rung of the podium after Vera Sokolova was formally disqualified from the race for three technical infringements when entering the stadium. Placed third at the time, the hosts were denied a clean sweep and Liu Hong of China capitalised to take her third successive World Championship medal in 1:28:10, having won bronze in Berlin and silver in Daegu.

The big pre-race news was the non-appearance on the start list of Olga Kaniskina, the World champion for the past three editions. There were rumours that the Russian may not start after a troubled build up to the championships and so it proved.

A 62-strong field set out in the Luzkniki Stadium before leaving the main arena for a series of nine 2km loops adjacent to the Moscow River before they re-entered the stadium for its conclusion.

The early pace was taken up by Italy's 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Elisa Rigaudo, who went through 2km in 9:36. Soon she was joined by the statuesque Czech teenager Anezka Drahotova and the pair had opened up a 20-metre lead on the main pack

Bringing to mind thoughts of Riguado's countrywoman Valeria Straneo, who had employed similar front-running tactics to win the silver medal in the women's Marathon on Saturday, the leader hit the 5km mark in 23:16 with the Czech two metres further back – six seconds clear of the main bunch which contained around 20 athletes.

In the second quarter of the race, the front pair edged out to around ten seconds and it was Drahotova, aged just 18 and a good steeplechaser, who took her turn to set the tempo at the head of affairs.

The European Junior 10,000m race walking champion with a white baseball cap sat backwards on her head opened up a 10-metre lead on Rigaudo with the main pack now a further 15 seconds adrift as 8km was reached by the leader in 36:35. Ines Henriques of Portugal led the following bunch from Spain's Julia Takacs with the Russian and Chinese threat close at hand.

Under a blue sky with some wispy clouds forming, Lashmanova and Kirdyapkina moved ominously towards the front of the chasing pack and quickly set about reeling in the leaders.

At halfway the 18-year-old Drahotova went through in 45:20, one second clear of Riguado. The Russian duo were not now only five seconds off the lead and closing rapidly. Liu of China led a five-strong group now in a single file some 14 seconds behind the leader.

By 11km the shape of the race was now really starting to form. The lead group was now four-strong, as Kirdyapkina and Lashmanova joined the two long-time leaders, although they were initially keen to play the waiting game and let the Czech set the pace.

The next group, some 15 seconds back, also contained four athletes, led by Liu and her compatriot Sun HuanHuan, Mirna Ortiz of Guatemala and Sokolova, the third Russian

By the 13km, Sokolova and Ortiz had dropped off the second group, the latter given a second notification. The gap that the lead pack held on their pursuers had also been reduced to nine seconds as the Chinese pair tried to force their way into the medal race.

Perhaps aware of the growing threat from Liu and Sun, the Russian pair decisively hit the front a little after the 14km. The immediate injection of pace impacted on Riguado and Drahotova as they lost contact and quickly faded out of the gold medal picture.

At three quarter distance it was Lashmanova walking stride for stride with Kirdyapkina in 1:06:52. Six seconds further back were Drahotova and Riguado, who were soon to be caught by Sun and Liu in the battle for bronze.

At 16km – reached in 1:11:03 by the co-leaders – the gap between them and the pursuing pack had been extended to 14 seconds.

Now it was a battle of wills in the race for gold, Kirdyapkina edging a stride clear of Lashmanova.

In the chase group Russian interest was heightened as Sokolova quickly re-emerged into the medal picture, ruthlessly hunting down the Chinese duo and sweeping decisively into the bronze medal position. She quickly, though, earned a second notification from officials to put her under pressure for the remainder of the race.

Just before 18km Lashmanova made her gold medal winning move as she moved quickly to the front for the first time in the race and within 400m had opened up a four-second advantage.

Lashmanova was given thunderous applause as she entered the arena with around 550m to go, however, confusion reigned as she crossed the 'finish line' for the first time believing she had  completed the race. She stopped and momentarily celebrated only to be told she needed to walk for a further 400m.

Scenting a possible opening, Kirdyapkina set off in hot pursuit and with 200m remaining had narrowed the gap to around 15m. However, Lashmanova, whose palms were raised in the air as if to signify her confusion entering the home stretch, held on to land the gold medal.

Liu took the bronze – following Sokolova's disqualification – with her compatriot Sun 22 seconds further back in fourth.

Riguado was rewarded for a brave performance with a season's best of 1:28:41 for fifth with the fast-finishing Spaniard Beatriz Pascual sixth in a SB of 1:29.00. Praise should also go to the 18-year-old Drahotova, who looks to be a real talent. She set a personal best of 1:29:05 for seventh.

the race was also the final event in this year's IAAF Race Walking Challenge and Lashmanova's win meant that she also took top honours in the season-long series. She has amassed 38 points from her three eligible races to take the USD$30,000 first prize.

Portugal's Ines Henriques hung on to claim second spot tin the Challenge, and win USD$20,000 despite only coming home 11th on the day.

Steve Landells for the IAAF