Saga Vanninen competes in the heptathlon high jump at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi (© Dan Vernon)
More than 1500 athletes from 145 teams are set to compete at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 between 1-6 August.
Here we take a look at the men’s and women’s race walks and combined events at the Pascual Guerrero Olympic Stadium.
Women’s 10,000m race walk
Just weeks after Japan’s success in the race walks at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, the nation heads to Cali with hopes of another 1-2 finish, this time in the women’s 10,000m race walk.
Ai Ooyama and Ayane Yanai are the fastest entrants for the championships, thanks to their road clockings of 45:19 and 45:21 respectively. Ooyama, who will be one of the youngest athletes in Cali, will be making her track debut, but if she is able to match her speed from the roads, then it should put her in medal contention.
Australia’s Olivia Sandery already has considerably experience across a range of distances and surfaces. She holds the fastest time on the track this year by an U20 athlete with her 45:24.1 PB from January. A fifth-place finish at the World Race Walking Team Championships in March has no doubt fired up Sandery ahead of the World U20 Championships.
Ukraine’s Valeriya Sholomitska also won’t be short of motivation. The 17-year-old finished fourth at the World U20 Championships last year and at the World Race Walking Team Championships earlier this year. Since fleeing her home country earlier this year, she has been training and racing in different locations around the world.
Heta Veikkola finished strongly at the World Race Walking Team Championships to finish third. She went on to set PBs for 5000m (22:11.54), 5km (22:44) and 10km (46:02), which suggests her track 10,000m PB of 49:39.40 is due for serious revision.
Italy, another strong race walking nation, will be represented by Giada Traina, who has a best this year of 46:51.44. She didn’t finish at the World Race Walking Team Championships but may fare slightly better on the track and in the kinder conditions of Cali.
Men’s 10,000m race walk
Heristone Wanyonyi, surprise winner of this title in Nairobi last year, will defend his title but this time the Kenyan takes on a much tougher line-up than before.
The 19-year-old may not have the fastest times to his name, but that’s mainly because most of his races have either been at altitude or in extreme temperatures. He clocked 42:10.84 to win the title last year and is about a minute shy of that so far this year, but he was competitive at the World Race Walking Team Championships in Muscat, placing fourth. And the three men who finished ahead of him there won’t be in Cali.
Turkey’s Mazlum Demir, who led for several kilometres at the World Race Walking Team Championships before fading and eventually finishing 11th, heads to Cali as the fastest man in the field. He clocked a national U20 record of 40:42.09 in June and he’ll be keen to improve upon his sixth-place finish from last year’s World U20 Championships.
Unsurprisingly, Japan and Italy have fielded strong teams in the race walks. Shotaro Shimoike and Riku Ooie will compete for Japan, both of whom have come close to breaking 41 minutes on the roads, while Italy will be represented by Nicola Lomuscio and Emiliano Brigante, whose track PBs are among the quickest in the field.
Colombia’s Mateo Romero finished just two seconds behind Wanyonyi in Muscat earlier this year. The home crowd advantage could spur the 19-year-old to an even higher finish in Cali.
Algeria’s Ismail Benhammouda, Ecuador’s Terry Patricio Villacorte and Guatemala’s Bryan Matias could all contest for medals too.
Saga Vanninen could become the first two-time world U20 heptathlon since Carolina Kluft achieved the feat 20 years ago.
The talented Finn was one of a handful of athletes last year to win gold at the World U20 Championships and European U20 Championships. She won the latter with a PB of 6271, a national U20 record.
She came close to that mark with 6193 in Oulu in late June, her second score in excess of 6000 points this year. She’ll likely need a similar performance in Cali if she is to keep the strong German contingent at bay.
Sandrina Sprengel won the German U20 trials with a PB of 6015, but the competition was relatively close with Serina Riedel taking second place with 5894. Apart from the shot put, where Vanninen excels, these leading three entrants are relatively closely matched in most disciplines, so the competition should be a gripping one.
Estonia’s Liisa-Maria Lusti should also be in medal contention. She has a PB of 5836 and will likely bank some big points in the jumping events. She is entered for the individual long jump and is a reserve for the high jump, an event in which she has a 1.86m PB.
Jacob Thelander heads to Cali with a score that’s 200 points better than any other decathlon entrant, but the Swedish all-rounder can’t rest on his laurels as there are five other athletes with PBs in excess of 7500.
Thelander finished seventh at the European U20 Championships last year but has built on that experience and improved to 7823 this year, helped by strong performances in the jumps. Expect him to bank some big points in the high jump in particular, especially if he can match his 2.10m PB from earlier this year.
If, however, that event doesn’t go to plan for him, the likes of Spain’s Pol Ferrer, Yoram Vriezen of the Netherlands or French duo Pierre Blaecke and Sacha Rifflart could capitalise.
Ferrer recently improved by more than 400 points to win the Spanish U20 title with 7623. And while he set some big PBs within that series, he was some way off his best in the 400m, the javelin and the 1500m, which suggests there’s potentially even more to come from him.
Vriezen, Blaecke and Rifflart have all improved significantly this year and will be keen to ride that wave through the battle for medals.
Norway’s Abraham Sandvin Vogelsang is also worth keeping an eye on. While his season’s best is 7385, he scored 7535 at the European U20 Championships last year and finished ahead of Thelander.
Others with medal potential include Germany’s Roman Jocher, Czech Republic’s Petr Svoboda and Gabriel Emmanuel of the Netherlands.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics