The European Cup Race Walking held in Royal Leamington Spa on Sunday 20 May saw 320 of Europe’s top walkers from 29 nations competing in and around the Victoria Park circuit.
The event was staged on behalf of the European Athletics Association (EAA) by UK Athletics, the Race Walking Association (RWA) and Warwick District Council, and marked the centrepiece of the RWA’s centenary celebrations.
The championships, title sponsored by Integrated Hydraulics and NP Aerospace, gave the area the perfect opportunity to promote itself as a venue for world class sports events and to showcase its training facilities ahead of London 2012, and the sun shone to provide a glorious day.
Five races were held during the course of the day, starting with the Men’s 50k. The race, described afterwards by Race Director Dr Ian Richards as “the greatest ever 50 k walk ever seen in the UK”, saw 25 walkers home in under 4 hours, with the first six all breaking the existing UK All Comers Record of 3:46:31, and the first nine all beating the existing course record of 3:50:21.
Russia’s Vladimir Kanaykin won in 3:40:57, with Norway’s Trond Nymark second in 3:41:31 and Oleg Kistkin (Russia) third in 3:41:51. The team prize was won by Russia, with Spain second and France third.
Next up was the U20 men’s 10k won by Russia’s Sergey Morozov in a new course record of 40:25. Second was Miguel Angel Lopez (Spain) in 40:49 and third Dmitriy Shorin (Russia) in 41:38.
Again a high quality field saw the first nine finishers all smash the existing course record. Russia again won the team prize, with Spain second and France third.
The Norwich Union GB & NI team was represented by Ben Wears (Redcar Race Walking) who finished 26th in 44:41, just outside his personal best. Ben said afterwards: “I’m quite pleased with my race, at one point I thought I was on for a 43.50 but the heat took its toll towards the end. I was at my peak in March when I qualified for the World Youth Championships in Ostrava, so to get this close to my PB now is pretty satisfying.”
GB & NI Team Leader Andy Drake said: “Ben, who is a junior for another couple of years yet, is a talented athlete who was only a little off his best today and knows there is more to come.”
Third race of the day was the junior women’s 10k, with Rebecca Mersh (City of Sheffield) representing GB & NI. Yet again the existing course record was smashed with the first twelve finishers inside the time of 48:19 and the winner, Anisya Kornikova of Russia breaking the UK all-comers record in 43.17.
Russia also picked up second and third places with Yelena Shumkina (44:29) and Inna Yumanova (45:45), plus the team prize ahead of Romania and Ukraine. Rebecca finished 32nd in a time of 52:44, a new season’s best.
Afterwards she said: “I’ve been disqualified in my last two races and have been working hard on my technique. Today it all went well and I have to be happy with a new season’s best.” Andy Drake said: “Rebecca went inside the selection criteria we set for this event for her to be competitive. Recent disqualifications have knocked her confidence and she’s done really well to come back so strong.”
The first of the afternoon’s two races was the senior women’s 20k with Johanna Jackson (Redcar Race Walking) and Lisa Kehler (Wolverhampton & Bilston) representing GB & NI.
Yet again the UK All Comers Record was smashed by the winner, European Champion Ryta Turava (Belarus) in 1:27:52, with Olga Kanishkina (Russia) second in 1:28:13 and Elena Ginko (Belarus) third in 1:28:29. Belarus claimed the team prize ahead of Russia and Spain.
Johanna, one of the youngest competitors in the field, was first Britain home in 1:38:56 and 38th position. She said: “Against such a quality line-up I’m reasonably happy. I’m still young and have to keep chipping away. The biggest lesson from today was to keep to my own race plan and not get carried away, and hopefully I can now make a real impact at the European U23 Championships in Hungary.”
Lisa, the oldest competitor and in her first international competition since winning a silver medal in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in 2002, was 43rd in 1:41:00 and said: “I was going well for the first 4 km but then got two red cards so had slow down. It was great to be back though and to get two minutes inside the last time I raced. Hopefully events like this in the UK will inspire youngsters so that we can achieve a bigger base for the sport.”
The final race saw Daniel King (Colchester Harriers) competing for GB & NI in the senior men’s 20k. The race was won by European champion Yohan Diniz of France in 1:18:58 (another UK all-comers record), with Olympic champion Ivano Brugetti of Italy second (1:19:36) and Igor Yerokhin (Russia) third (1:20:09).
The team prize went to Belarus, with Italy second and Spain third. Daniel finished the race in 1:30:59 and 48th place and afterwards was very disappointed, saying: “I felt really good up to 5k and then got awful stomach cramps and was physically sick.
“Racing in my own country I didn’t want to drop put so I’m pleased I managed to finish but am frustrated and upset about my overall performance. I need to sit down with my coach and work out what went wrong, but on a plus note I’ve at least picked up some more 20k experience.”