Diniz chases three of the best
It will be one of the stories of the week if Yohann Diniz, eight years on from winning his first 50km gold at a European Athletics Championships, finds himself singing the La Marseillaise with the music blaring out as he stands on the top of the podium in Zurich.
But rule nothing out from this determined Frenchman who turned 36 on New Year's Day and is back for a hat-trick of crowns.
Unlike 12 months ago, he is here ready to strike without the gruelling competitions which preceded the IAAF World Championships in Moscow where he finished 10th, still a highly-respectable outcome, but not the one he would have hoped for.
Now he is fresh and ready to see if he can make it three in a row after his glory in Gothenburg in 2006 and Barcelona in 2010, the last time race walking was held at the European Athletics Championships.
As he reflected on 2013, speaking to eurosport.fr, Diniz said: "Last year I was not well mentally and physically. I think I had given too much to Dudince by winning the European Cup in 30 degrees (in May). Unfortunately in Moscow, I think I paid the fact of having two 50km races before the worlds."
This time will be different, with no 50km races in 2014.
But that is the exact pattern which has been taken by the man who triumphed in Russia a year ago - Ireland’s Robert Heffernan.
As Diniz was nine positions behind him in 3:45:18, Heffernan took gold in 3:37:56 ahead of Russia’s Mikhail Ryzhov, who was second in 3:38:58 and will have a point to prove having lost at home at the world championships.
Ryzhov made his intentions clear in May when he won the World Race Walking Cup in Taicang in 3:39:05, the quickest time by a European in 2014.
But how much will that have taken out of him as he faces Heffernan who has competed at the 20km distance this summer to prepare for Zurich?
It is why this 50km walk is one of the most fascinating races of these European Athletics Championships because of the stories behind some of the leading men.
Russia look immensely strong, with their men occupying the top three spots in the European Athletics rankings, with Ryzhov followed by Ivan Noskov, who was second behind him in Taicang in 3:39:38, and Aleksandr Yargunkin, who won the National Championships in Cheboksary in June in 3:42:26. Poland’s Rafal Augustyn, who won in Dudince in March in 3:45:32, will also be up there with the leaders.
When Ukrainian Ruslan Dmytrenko won gold over 20km at the World Race Walking Cup in May, his performance in Taicang of 1:18:37 was a national record to send him soaring to the top of the European list.
There he remains - and he will hope to triumph again in Zurich.
He was seventh in Moscow last summer and 12th back in 2010 at the European Athletics Championships and here in in a field of 36, he is the man the rest have to beat.
It could be a close race. Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez is on an upward trend at the championships, turning his fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games in London into bronze in Moscow last year and his best time of 1:19:21 shows that he will be a threat to Dmytrenko. As will the Russian duo of Denis Strelkov, who has a season’s best of 1:19:47, and Aleksandr Ivanov, with 1:20:44.
Kirdyapkina at the helm but Drahotova is a threat
The top 10 places on the women’s 20km in the European Athletics rankings are all from the World Race Walking Cup in Taicang, where only second and sixth from the first 12 home were non Europeans.
At the head of that field is Russia’s Anisya Kirdyapkina in 1:26:31 and having shown the strength and pace to win this event, it is why she will be seen as the favourite for Zurich.
But if Kirdyapkina, who was second in Moscow last year, looks around, she might see a pretty big pack behind her.
Out of those 10 women from Taicang, Kirdyapkina will face the next six in the rankings with the closest two on times being her fellow Russians, Elmira Alembekova and Vera Sokolova.
Alembekova took bronze in Taicang in 1:27:02, just a second ahead of Sokolova, with Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi, fifth in a national record of 1:27:05. In seventh then was Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Olyanovska, also in a national record of 1:27:27, ahead of Portugal’s Ana Cabecinha, in 1:27:49, and Antonella Palmisano, of Italy, in 1:27:51.
But away from those results in Taicang, one woman is making quite a name for herself in 2014.
The Czech Republic’s outstanding 19-year-old Anezka Drahotova is the youngest competitor in the field and will be in Zurich fresh from a gold medal triumph.
She won gold in the 10,000m race walk at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Oregon at the end of July in a world junior record of 42:47:25.
Who knows what is next from this superb talent?
ALL THE WALKING STATS
20km - Alex Schwazer (Ita), who won in 1:20:38
50km - Yohann Diniz (Fra), 3:40:37.
20km - Olga Kaniskina (Rus), 1:27:44
20km - Ruslan Dmytrenko (Ukr), 1:18:37, Taicang, May 4
50km - Mikhail Ryzhov (Rus), 3:39:05, Taicang, May 3
20km - Anisya Kirdyapkina (Rus), 1:26:31, Taicang, May 3
20km - Vladimir Kanaykin (Rus), 1:17:16, Saransk, Sep 29, 2007
50km - Denis Nizhegorodov (Rus), 3:34:14, Cheboksary, May 11, 2008
20km - Yelena Lashmanova (Rus), 1:25:02, London, Aug 8, 2012
EUROPEAN ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIP RECORDS
20km - Francisco Fernandez (Spa), 1:18:37, Munich 2002
50km - Robert Korzeniowski (Pol), 3:36:39, Munich 2002
20km - Olimpiada Ivanova (Rus), 1:26:42, Munich 2002