We were lucky enough to have Elliot Denman write our three pieces on the Beijing Walks. I had missed this piece in the craziness of the last four days there. Today is Wednesday, August 27, 2008, and I just arrived back last night from Beijing. Suffice it to say that my brain is somewhere over the North Pole right now. With that said, please enjoy Elliot Denmans’ thoughtful observances on the women’s walk:
WOMENâ€™S 20K RACEWALK
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
BEIJING â€“ â€œJust a-walkin in the rain.â€
With no rival within challenging distance, Olga Kaniskina had to hum it to herself for one hour, 26 minutes and 31 seconds.
The 23-year-old, 5-foot-3, 95-pounder from the Russian town of Saransk, where racewalkers are treated like royalty, bolted to an early lead in the third edition of the womenâ€™s Olympic 20-kilometer race, and stood her ground throughout, despite the pelting-down rain, and blazed home a clearcut winner in Olympic record time.
She easily erased the prior Olympic best of 1:29:05 set by Wang Liping of China at Sydney in 2000, and might have threatened the listed world record of 1:25:41 by countrywoman Olimpiada Ivanova at Helsinki in 2005, too, if conditions hadnâ€™t been so downright soggy.
Her two-word explanation for the non-WR: â€œthe weather.â€
Forty-eight walkers from 30 nations reported to the starting line at 9 a.m., at the height of the downpour, and all soon were soaked to their skin. Forty-three successfully navigated the course, consisting of three laps around the stadium track, a dash through the exit tunnel, and then on to nine of the grey Mondo-carpeted outside 2,000-meter loops, followed by a 372-meter stroll to the same finish line Usain Bolt so electrified on previous nights.
Three saw the dreaded red paddle, meaning disqualification, and two were DNFs.
The medals ceremony was scheduled for Thursday night, and Kaniskina planned to both exult and catch up on playing tourist â€“ probably on foot.
â€œI donâ€™t own a car,â€ she said. â€œI like to walk.â€
She may also have been one of the few people walking around Beijing without a mobile phone, but was sure the good news still got back to Saransk in record time.
â€œI have won at (the big) Championships (sheâ€™s took gold at the Osaka worlds last August and the World Cup 20K in Cheboksary, in the backyard of Saransk) but an Olympic medal is more difficult, because of all the strong competitors are here,” she said.
â€œToday is a milestone for me, I will (now) train harder and do better.â€
After blitz start, Kaniskina was never in the slightest danger â€“ except from the judges. She picked up one red card for a bent knee violation midway through the race but no further bad news was posted on the electronic scoreboard.
Reeling off her single kilometers at around 4:25 pace, and her miles under 7 minutes per, she â€œchippedâ€ through the electronic tough pads in 42:43 for 10K,
59:51 for 14K, 1:06:31 for 16K, and 1:17:24 for 18K, before proceeding back into the stadium and meeting her golden destiny.
Her 10K splits: 42:48 and After Valery Borchinâ€™s win in the menâ€™s 20K the previous Saturday, this gave Russiaâ€™s walkers a two-for-two Beijing record, with the third likely in Fridayâ€™s menâ€™s 50K. Kaniskina walked 10k splits of 42:43 and 43:48.
It was the battle for the other two medals and the other high placings that was more intense than Kaniskinaâ€™s going-for-the-gold.
At least six walkers were in the mix for these medals and the place spots over the concluding Ks.
Norway9s Kiersti Tysse Platzer hung in for a gallant second in 1:27:07, while Italyâ€™s Elisa Rigaudo rallied from fourth to third over the last 2K to arrive in 1:27:12, as Spainâ€™s Maria Vasco faded from third to fifth in 1:27:25.
Back at Sydney in 2000, Platzer and Vasco placed 2-3.
For Platzer, 36, this was likely her finale to big-time walking.
â€œI started my Olympic career with silver and Iâ€™m ending my Olympic career with silver,â€ she said, smiling.
She hopes to smile even wider Friday â€“ cheering for brother Erik Tysse in the 50K.
It was Chinaâ€™s own Hong Liu who made the biggest move of all, fr om eighth at 12K to fourth at the end in 1:27:25.
Other notables were further back.
Athanasia Tsoumeleka, who shocked her homeland by delivering Greeceâ€™s first gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games â€“ and got herself onto a postage
stamp the very next morning â€“ settled for ninth in 1:27:54.
Belarusâ€™ Ryta Turava, who gallantly held onto second place much of the
way â€“ past the 16K mark â€“ and then had to fight off an angry tummy â€“ got back in the race after nearly walking off the course and wound up a gut-wrenching 11th in 1:28:26.
Aussie Jane Saville, whose shoc k DQ as she entered the stadium ahead of the
pack at Sydney in 2000 led to major changes in the judging and communications systems within the big-time racewalking world, then came back to take the bronze at Athens in 2004, was just 20th in 1:31.17 this time.
Joanne Dow, the Manchester, NH mom-of-two who at 44 was the oldest member of the whole American team, as well as the oldest athlete in this race,
walked a smartly-paced 1:34:15 (46:44 and 47:31 10Ks.)
Dow also recorded the fastest-ever time by a U.S. 20K woman at the Games. Having to deal with all that H20 on the course may have helped for the former U. of New Hampshire varsity swimmer.
Michelle Rohlâ€™s 14th place, over the 10K distance at the 1988 Seoul Games,
remains the highest-ever finish by a U.S. Olympic woman walker.
The 2000-meter carpet stayed down overnight, ready for its 24-lap Friday test by the 50K men.