Alex Schwazer produced a stunning
performance at the first European
Athletics Race Walking Permit meeting
in Lugano at the weekend.
The 2008 Olympic games 50km walk champion smashed his own Italian record for the distance, set at the same race two years ago when he clocked 1:18:24, when he crossed the line in 1:17:30.
It was the sixth best performance ever and only 14 seconds shy of the ratified world record of Russia's Viktor Kanaykin.
The 27-year-old, who also got the 2010 European Athletics Championships silver medal over the shorter of the two championships distances for walking, was in front from the gun and went through the first kilometre three second clear of the field in 4:00 exactly.
However, he was soon joined by Guatemala's Erick Barrondo and the pair were shoulder-to shoulder for the next 11km, passing 5km in 19:40 and then speeding up to go through the halfway point in 39:06.
France's double European 50km champion Yohann Diniz was also never far behind and caught up with the leading pair just before 13km, and then went straight to the front to push the pace.
Barrondo started to falter slightly just before the 15km mark, which Schwazer and Diniz reached in 58:32.
The European pair then duelled for the next four kilometres before Schwazer accelerated again halfway around the final 2km circuit by the Lugano lakeside to leave Diniz trailing in his wake.
“When my coach asked me what sort of time I thought I could do, I wrote down 1:18:30. To go a minute faster is incredible,” said the delighted Schwazer.
Diniz finished second in a national record of 1:17:43 while there were also personal bests for the three walkers immediately behind him.
The Guatemalan finished third with 1:18:25 while Ukraine's Nazar Kovalenko and Ruslan Dmytrenko were fourth and fifth in 1:19:55 and 1:20:19 respectively.
Russia's Tatiana Sibileva took the women's honours in 1:28:03, breaking away from Guatemala's Mirna Ortiz with six kilometres to go.
Ortiz finished second in 1:28:54 while Italy's 2008 Olympic Games women's 20km walk bronze medallist Elisa Rigaudo was third in 1:29:25.
France's Aurelien Quinion won the junior men's 10km race in 44:16, after being out in front from 3km. Latvia's Edgars Gjacs was second in 44:32.
Ireland's 2011 World Youth Championships 5000m gold medallist Kate Veale, who is still only 18 and one of the favourites for a medal at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona in July, was just outside her own Irish junior 10km record when she was the convincing junior women's winner in 47:01, finishing nearly three minutes in front of France's second-placed France's Coralie Mellado.
Full results can be found on the website of the Lugano Trophy - Memorial Mario Albisetti Walking in six languages) here.
The next European Athletics Race Walking Permit Meeting will be in Dudince, Slovakia, on 24 March and Alex Schwazer is scheduled to race over 50km there.
Details of all the 2012 European Athletics Race Walking Permit Meetings can be found here.