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News31 Aug 2011

Kaniskina breaks cover curse to walk her way into history books


Olga Kaniskina celebrates winning her third consecutive World Championships gold medal (© Getty Images)

Daegu, Korea - Today Olga Kaniskina achieved two things that four other reigning Olympic champions had not managed to do here in Daegu. The first was to win a third straight World title. The second was to break the dreaded ‘cover curse’.

The Daegu Daily Programme cover curse has been something of a talking point among the media at the IAAF World Championships. After the misfortunes of the first four cover stars – Steve Hooker, Usain Bolt, Dayron Robles and Yelena Isinbayeva – people began to think that the featured athletes were jinxed.

So when defending 20km walk champion Olga Kaniskina appeared on the cover of today’s programme, it seemed as though it was just a matter of time before she too would fall victim, perhaps with a disqualification for lifting.

But the Russian did not let it affect her and she broke clear of the leading pack two thirds into the race, continually extending her lead through to the finish to clock a winning time of 1:29:42.

So how did she overcome the jinx that had affected so many of the world’s other leading athletes this week?

“I didn’t even realise that had been the case for the other athletes,” said Kaniskina, blissfully unaware of the ‘curse’. “I wasn’t even aware that I was on the cover today. I’d like to thank everyone for not telling me about it before the race!”

But to focus on Kaniskina breaking the curse would be trite, as her performance was far more noteworthy on many other levels.

The 26-year-old became the first woman in World Championships history to win three 20km walk titles in a row. Only one other race walker, male or female, has achieved such a feat – Ecuador’s Jefferson Perez, who won the men’s 20km walk three times between 2003 and 2007.

With Olympic and European titles also to her name, Kaniskina is without doubt one of the most dominant – and under-rated – athletes in world athletics. Her last loss at a major championship was when finishing second at the 2006 European Championships, aged just 21 at the time. Already she is arguably the greatest female walker of all time, and she has many years ahead of her in which to win more medals.

The only glaring omission from her CV is the World record. She owns the second-fastest time in history at 1:24:56, but as it was set in a race without the minimum requirement of international officials, the official World record stands to team-mate Vera Sokolova at 1:25:08.

“The World record is not the only thing missing, as I have not yet won the European Cup,” said Kaniskina, who won the World Cup title in 2008. “A World record attempt would be a very different race to the World Championships where tactics come in to play. But anything is possible. I already have the second-fastest time, so maybe one day I’ll try to officially get the record. Why not?”

Kaniskina, who finished last in her first ever race walking competition back in 2009, has an enviable knack of always raising her game for a major championships. Motivation, she says, is never an issue.

“You have to be motivated, and I always do have motivation,” she said. “I try not to think of my previous victories and instead I just focus on the race ahead. I want to win every competition I take part in.”

With such dominance, it is difficult to imagine when Kaniskina’s winning streak at major championship will come to an end. But one thing is certain – it will take more than a picture in a programme to stop her from winning.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF

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