Ma Zhenxia wins the 5000m race walk at the IAAF World Youth Championships Cali 2015 (© Getty Images)
One country and two races dominate the leading times ahead of Saturday morning’s 10km U20 race for women at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Rome 2016.
Needless to say, the country is China, who as the most populous place on the planet has plenty to choose from.
More’s the point, they have not even chosen their fastest race walker for the first of the five races over the weekend.
Ma Yiming stays at home even though she recorded 44:25 in April in Taicang to head the 2016 world U20 list.
However, the difference between her and world youth champion Ma Zhenxia is a mere five seconds after the latter won at Huangshan in March.
Treading on the heels of the second Ma in that race was Zhang Lifang just one second back. And it was only a further 11 seconds difference to Ma Li, who recorded 44:41 to make up China’s trio for Italy.
Their team bosses could have chosen any three from the next five and still have better times than the first race walker in the world’s top 10 who won’t wear a red vest in Rome.
Taika Nummi from Finland has walked a few seconds quicker on the track, but notched 45:49 and first place at Podebrady in April.
She is the only non-Chinese in the world’s top 10, so it’s going to need a catastrophe demanding three Chinese non-finishers or surprise disqualifications to upset the Asian applecart.
On the track so far in 2016, Australia boasts three of the four quickest times. Clara Smith’s win in Sydney in 47:17.64 heralded a good start to the month for the 18-year-old.
Sadly, the second ranked on the track won’t be in Rome. Puerto Rico’s 16-year-old Rachelle De Orbeta recently recorded 47:34.69, and the presence of a race walking minnow like Puerto Rico would have enhanced the global spirit of the race.
However, Tayla-Paige Billington will line up alongside Australian teammate Smith after her 47:47.49 clocking in Perth in March.
In previous U20 races, the opening kilometres tend to be cagey affairs with a leading group often 20 strong, so that a final-lap sprint decides the trophies.
This time, the leading group of three Chinese athletes could be home and hosed up to a minute before the next race walker crosses the finish line.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF