For the first time since 1992, there will be an Olympic gold medalist in the 50 km Race Walk whose name is not Robert Korzeniowski. With the post-Athens retirement of the Pole, who won every 50 km event he finished in the eight years between Atlanta and Athens, including three World Championships titles and two European Championships, the door is open for a new champion.
Not only will the previous Olympic champion not be stepping to the line in Beijing, but the both recent World Champions will be missing as well. Australia’s Nathan Deakes, who broke down in tears of joy and relief when he reached the Osaka finish line, was less pleased when his Olympic preparation ended abruptly with a torn hamstring in training last month. Russia’s Sergey Kirdyapkin, the runaway champion in Helsinki, was not selected for the Russian team, overshadowed by younger and faster countrymen.
With the champions largely missing, the mantle of “favorite” must fall on the fresh World Record holder, Denis Nizhegorodov of Russia. With his 3:34:14 mark from the IAAF Race Walking Cup in May, where Nizhegorodov powered away from a late-race threat, Nizhegorodov is the fastest walker in the field and, with his silver from Athens, the best-decorated. Nizhegorodov’s 2007 mark of 3:40.53, also set in Cheboksary, the Russian city which hosted the Race Walking Cup this May, was the second-fastest of 2007, but Nizhegorodov, who walked himself into a stupor pursuing Korzeniowski in Athens, was fourth and outside the medals in Osaka.
Italy’s Alex Schwazer arrives in Beijing as walking’s “Mr. Bronze.”
Schwazer, the fastest walker over 50 km in 2007, was a frustrated third in both Helsinki and Osaka, and wound up in the same position in Cheboksary. He has every reason to consider himself a contender for the gold medal, but he knows as well as anyone that racing well is as important as walking fast when it comes to major titles.
The Osaka silver medalist, Yohan Diniz of France, will be in Beijing as well. Injured in the winter, Diniz passed up Cheboksary and has only walked 20 km in road competition in 2008, but that was in hot conditions at the French national championships and should prepare him well for the expected heat and humidity of the Olympic final.
If a previously-undecorated walker should leave Beijing with a medal, Trond Nymark of Norway would stand as most likely. Nymark crossed the line fourth in Cheboksary this May, and his best finish (and time) came at the 2006 IAAF Race Walking Cup in La Coruña, Spain, where he was second in 3:41:30. Nymark is a three-time Norwegian champion at the distance and has been a consistent sub-3:45 walker since 2004.
The 50 km race walk final will take place on Thursday, 21 August, at 9:00 AM local time in Beijing. It will start and finish in the National Stadium, with most of the distance being covered on an out-and-back loop on the Zhongzhou Road on the Olympic Green, between the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube aquatics venue.
Parker Morse for the IAAF