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News28 Aug 2011

Two-time champion Borchin content as 20km specialist


Another commanding victory for Valeriy Borchin in the Daegu 20Km Race Walk (© Getty Images)

Valeriy Borchin has absolutely no interest in trying the other Olympic distance.

None whatsoever, nada, zilch.

The world's finest 20-kilometre "sprint" race walker - an obvious title now that he has won the gold medals at the last two IAAF World Championships, Berlin 2009 and Daegu 2011, as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games - will be delighted to leave the 50-kilometre distance to the "marathon men" who go 2 1/2 times longer than the route preferred by Borchin and his "sprint" companions.

He'll be very happy resting on his laurels, thank you very much.

With - perhaps - the Daegu gold medal draped around his neck, Borchin can return to Daegu's iconic Gongpyeong Junction road loop (a two-kilometer circuit in the heart of town) - Saturday morning to cheer on his 50Km road buddies.

"I am not at all thinking of (ever) doubling (in the style of Polish great Robert Korzeniowski, the 20/50K twin winner of the 2000 Sydney Olympics), " Borchin declared at his post-race press conference.

"These races are not one and the same thing. It is not like a sprinter running the 100 and 200 metres.  They are distinct events. They require very different training and preparation.  And I am very happy where I am right now."

He should be.

Where he now is - is in position to become the very first man to take repeat Olympic golds in the 20Km. No one's done it since the 20K distance supplanted the 10K on the Olympic program in 1956.  The first man to do it will be one for the books.

Fourteen Olympic 20Ks have been staged and just two men - Vladimir Golubnichiy, competing for the Soviet Union in 1956-60, and the redoubtable Mauricio Damilano of Italy, now chief of the IAAF's racewalking commission - have come even close to repeating.

Golubnichiy struck gold at Rome in 1960 but settled for bronze at Tokyo in 1964 before winning again at Mexico City in 1968. Damilano led the way at Moscow in 1980, then earned bronzes at Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988.  In short, three medals for each of them, but none in succession.

Jefferson Perez of Ecuador is often considered the greatest of "sprint" walkers of the last two decades - with an Olympic gold in 1996 and a silver in 2008, on top of World Championship golds in 2003, 2005 and 2007. The 2003 triumph in the World Championships came in the record time of 1:17:21, then a world record, too.

But now Borchin - a young talent who will mark his 25th birthday on 11 September - seems poised to make his own mark among the greats of the racewalking game.

Then again, he's taking nothing at all for granted.

"As we all know, anything can happen in racewalking," Borchin said. "I am happy to be where I am (as the solid winter-book choice for London in 2012) but I cannot rest on my honors.  There are many, many other great walkers and great challengers.  We all have a year to go.  Whoever prepares the best will have the best chance."

Whoever plans to challenge Borchin had best be prepared to go out fast, pick up the pace by midway, and finish with an absolutely scorching homestretch sprint.

That's exactly what Borchin did Sunday morning. His consecutive 5K "splits" were 21:15, 20:18, 18:59, and 19:12.

Add them up and Borchin crossed the finish line in 1:19:56, downright creditable in the somewhat muggy conditions.  Oh, he was also the first non-Kenyan man to strike gold at Daegu, too.  Matter of fact, just four past Worlds winners have been faster -Damilano (1:19:37) in 1991, Perez (the record 1:17:21 in 2003 and 1:18:35 in 2005), and Borchin's own 1:18:41 in 2009.

"We were competing for our country and also for Mordovia," said Borchin.

Mordovia is the region some 350 miles east of Moscow that must be a racewalker's version of Disneyland. If there's a racewalking heaven on earth, this is the place.

"Oh, it is famous, oh so famous," Russian journalist Nail Zabarov, himself a veteran marathon runner, told an American colleague.

The governor of Mordovia, the mayor of Saransk, its walking capital, as well as a good percentage of the populace, "has gone bonkers," some might say, over racewalking.

"It is big-big-big," said Zabarov.

The city operates several "academies of racewalking" where promising youngsters come to study the Olympic art of speedy pedestrianism, as a major subject, along with more normal academic disciplines.

Running in Saransk? Just a minor diversion. Football, basketball, hockey? They're merely pleasant alternatives to the biggest game in town. Several thousand racewalkers are said to stroll the streets, and drill in the athletic facilities of Saransk.

And huge throngs will come out to support the race walkers when the big events are staged.

Cheboksary, also in Mordovia, hosted the IAAF World Race Walking Cup competition in 2008, and after a sojourn to Chihuahua, Mexico, in 2010, the World Race Walking Cup returns to Mordovia, this time to Saransk, on 12-13 May, 2012.

Borchin, of course, is sure to be saluted as a celebrity of all celebrity on this occasion, which will certainly serve as major prelude to the London racewalks just beyond.

If ever a racewalker had a "home course edge," it will be Borchin at Saransk next May.

Bottom line to all of this: Valeriy Borchin is at the very top of his game and poised to walk his way into the archives of his event.

Sure there are legions of top threats to his continued reign, among them his Russian teammates and top candidates from China, Mexico, Australia, Colombia, Japan, Italy, Spain, France and so many more. Yes, race walking remains one of the most global of all athletics disciplines - witness the 53-entry 20K field Sunday, with strongly competitive representatives from all six continents.

But there's only one crown for all of them and right now it's firmly perched atop of the head of Mr. Valeriy Borchin.

Elliott Denman for the IAAF

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