Berlin Diary 09, Day 2: Women's 20k Racewalk: Olga & Olive Show, by Elliot Denman


Here is Elliot's take on the Women's 20k walk, held Sunday morning, August 16, 2009....


BERLIN - Call it the Olga and Olive Show.

As Russia's Olga Kaniskina was scorching the 10-loop, Unter-den-Linden course in one hour, 28 minutes and nine seconds, thus becoming the first repeat champion in the annals of the women's 20-kilometer racewalk at the World Championships of Track and Field, Ireland's Olive Loughnane was doing some Sunday sizzling of her own, coming home strong in the second half of the race to take the silver medal in 1:28.58.

Forty-nine seconds was not that much of a differential considering all the territory they'd covered along the way.

The 20K has been on the Worlds program since the 1999 edition in Seville, and had been preceded by the 10K, which was held five times between 1987 (Rome) and 1997 (Athens.)

For sure, Russia's Olimpiada Ivanova - another of those "Ol" named walking women - had won the 20K in 2001 (Edmonton) and 2005 (Helsinki.) But she saw the 2003 (Paris) renewal go to Russian teammate Yelena Nikolayeva.

So that opened the door for Kaniskina, 24, who'd led the way at Osaka 2007 in 1:30:09, to register her two-peat. Some might even rate it a three-peat on the world supremacy meters since she'd claimed the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold, too.

But Olive, 33, gave Olga a valiant chase, closing to within some 200 meters at the finish line located just past the historic Brandenburg Gate.

Twenty years ago, a casual stroll through that gate would have been Mission Impossible. This, after all, was where East and West stood worlds apart, defined by the side of The Iron Curtain they happened to occupy.

But on Sunday it represented a journey through a brave new world.

"Olive, what would it take for you - or anyone - to ever outwalk Olga?" an intervierwer asked.

"Pretty simple," began the repsonse. "Just live in a place where they'd let you racewalk train all day long, where you had coaches, support staff, training partners all there, nothing to worry about but your own training and preparation."

Such a place is Saransk, in the Russian state of Mordovia, many kilometers east of Moscow, where racewalking is the biggest (some say only) game in town and Coach Viktor Chegin runs the whole show with a brilliant hand.

How brillliant?

Valery Borchin, who won the men's 20K on Saturday, is also a Saranskite and pupil.

"Valery, he and I are training partners,' said Kansikina. "Also very good friends."

Loughnane, though, has no such luxuries.

She's a mom and a wife and has a real life beyond her sport.

''Sure I train hard, maybe not as hard as Olga, but I do get in the work," she said. "I've learned to focus. When my training time's over, that's it. I've got a real life to attend to."

Her silver medal was just the fifth medal won by an Irish athlete in the 12 editions of the Worlds, and represented a huge improvement over her 17th place finish at Osaka in 2007. Another Irish walk star, Gillian O'Sullivan, had placed second to Nikolayeva at Paris in 2003.

With Hong Liu's third-place 1:29:10 performance, China (like Russia) had its second racewalk medal of the Worlds.Hao Wang had placed second to Borchin on Saturday.

"Everything went according to plan," said Kaniskina, who bided her time as Germany's Sabine Krantz (23:18 at 5k), Spain's Maria Vasco and Norway's Kjersti Platzer ''took it out."

But Olga soon started surging and there soon was little doubt about the final outcome.

Kasinkina led at 10K (44.58) and 15K (1:06.22) and "brought it home" with a concluding 21:47 5K. Loughnane and Liu were even at 1:17.18 through 15K but Olive's last 5K of 21.40 built the decisive gap and actually gained ground on Kaniskina.

The early leaders walked into major problems.

Krantz and Vasco wound up on the DNF list while Klatzer suffered a dreaded late DQ.

But saddest walker in the field may have been Teresa Vaill, the lone USA representative.

"I just felt awful, from the time I got to the race and then into it,' said the 46-yearöold vet. " I had nothing in the tank. The early pace really wasn't that fast. But I still couldn't take it. It's hard explaining all this, but this was a terrible day for me."

After finishing 5K in 23:58, just 40 seconds off the lead pace, she was out of the race by the 6th K.

Thanks again to Elliot Denman for providing his expertise in our walking coverage.

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