European walkers excel in Lugano and a new Czech star is born

Dmytrenko Ruslan
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Ukraine's Ruslan Dmytrenko finished second at the opening race of the 2013 European Athletics Race Walking Meetings circuit in Lugano on Sunday. 

The opening race of the European Athletics Race Walking Circuit brought victories for two of China's top athletes as Wang Zhen and Liu Hong triumphed.

But the event on Sunday was heralded as an equally great success for European walkers, with a series of personal bests, national records and junior winners from the continent's athletes.

Zhen, the bronze medallist from the Olympic Games in London, who won this title at the Memorial Mario Albisetti in 2011, was first in 1:19.08 over the 20km course.

But behind him was evidence of the strength of runners on the European circuit with Ukraine's Ruslan Dmytrenko second in 1:20:38 and Kevin Campion, of France, third in 1:21:02.

Dmytrenko was 30th in London in 1:23:21 as Zhen finished third in 1:19:25, so the improvement was immense as the gap in times was narrowed here in Switzerland.

Campion made a big leap in his time, too, but the fact the top 10 were all under 1:22 shows the depth of international race-walking, with six of those from Europe.

Ukraine's Nazar Kovalenko was fourth in 1:21:10, Poland's Lukasz Nowak was sixth in 1:21:17 - missing his personal best time by just five seconds - Ivan Losev, of the Ukraine, was ninth in 1:21:55 with Irish record holder Robert Heffernan 10th in 1:21:59.

Hong, the world championship silver medallist and Asian record-holder, also the champion in Lugano in 2011, regained the title in the women's 20km in 1:27:06, breaking the event record of 1:28:03 that Russian Tatyana Sibileva recorded 12 months ago.

In the exact time as last year, Mirna Ortiz, of Guatemala, was second in 1:28:54 as she equalled her own South American record while European athletes set personal landmarks.

Russian Lina Bikulowa was third in a personal best of 1:28:58 and in fourth, Katarzyna Kwoka, broke the Polish record as she finished in 1:29:21 with the woman whose 2012 time of 1:29:44 she overtook being Paulina Buziak, who was in fifth 1:30:15.

Five years ago at the Olympic Games in Beijing, Italian Elisa Rigaudo won bronze and she was sixth here in 1:30:49 with a brilliant performance in seventh from Anezka Drahotova of the Czech Republic.

At 17, she was making her debut at the distance and she proved she could be one of race walking's big stars of the future.

Not only was her time of 1:30:54 a national junior best, it was the second quickest time ever by a Czech woman.

The last walker under 1:32 was experienced Lithuanian Brigita Virbalyte who was eighth in 1:31:47.

Europe had fine successes in the junior events over 10km, with Britain's Jamie Higgins winning the men's race in 43:30 and Russian Nadezhda Leontyeva first in the women's in 45:14.

In the under-17s 10km, Slovakia's Michal Morvay triumphed in the boys in 44:54 and Italy's Lidia Bardella was first in the girls in 52:24.

Final results