Olympic champion Lashmanova adds lustre to Rio Maior

elena lashmanova
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Olympic champion Elena Lashmanova will compete in the 22nd Grande Prémio Internacional de Rio Maior. 

The second event on the 2013 European Athletics Race Walking Permit Meeting calendar is the 22nd Grande Prémio Internacional de Rio Maior em Marcha Atlética, and the organisers have attracted Russia's London 2012 Olympic Games women's 20km champion Yelena Lashmanova to race in Portugal on Saturday.

Lashmanova, who also set a world record of 1:25:02 for the distance when winning in London, will have her second race of the year having also won at the Russian winter championships in Sochi seven weeks ago.

Good weather is expected for the event, which also counts towards the IAAF Race Walking Challenge, in the Portuguese town which lies just to the north of Lisbon and the women's course record of 1:27:19, set by Belarus's Rita Turava in 2005 could potentially be under threat from Lashanova and, perhaps, some of her rivals.

Rio Maior, despite having a population of just over 20,000 is something of a race walking hotspot in Portugal.

Local star Ines Henriques comes from the town, as does the well-known Vera Santos, the 2003 European Athletics U23 Championships gold medallist, and the pair will be racing in front of family and friends on Saturday.

Henriques, in particular, has been in good form already this year and was a winner at the opening leg of the 2013 IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Chihuahua, Mexico, back in February and she is aiming to beat her personal best of 1:29:36, set in 2010, on Saturday.

Santos, who has a personal best of 1:28:19 from when she finished ninth at the 2008 Olympic Games, hasn't been in such good form and finished back in fourth at the Portuguese championships last month, and so will have a point to prove in Rio Maior.

Portugal will also have Ana Cabecinha, the national record holder at 1:27:46 and second behind Henriques in Chihuahua, on the start line.

From across the border, Spain's Beatriz Pascual won in Rio Maior 12 months ago and so should also be in contention for a place on the podium.

Not to be discounted either is Lithuania's Kristina Saltanovic, who finished eighth at the last two IAAF World Championships.

From across the Atlantic, Guatemala's Mirna Ortiz was second at the opening European Athletics Race Walking Permit Meeting, the famous Memorial Mario Albisetti Trophy, in the Swiss city of Lugano last month and she will be accompanied by her compatriot Jamy Franco, the 2011 Pan American champion.

In the men's race, all eyes will be on another Guatemalan, Erick Barrondo, who memorably won his country's first ever Olympic medal in any sport in London when he finished second in men's 20km walk in London.

However, Portugal's 20km and 50km walk record holder João Vieira, the 2006 and 2010 European Athletics Championships 20km bronze medallist has a best of 1:20:09 over the shorter distance and will be hoping to cause a surprise in his home town.

Vieira's twin brother Sérgio is also a fine race walker with a best of 1.20.58 and will be looking for family bragging rights while there will be two good Spaniards on the start line, Francisco Arcilla and Luís Amezcua; as well as Ecuador's 2011 South American champion Andrés Chocho.