Olga Kaniskina, Elena Lashmanova and Anisya Kirdyapkina celebrate winning team gold in Saransk (© IAAF)
Expect an absorbing battle between the hosts Russia and their long-time rivals China in what should prove a fascinating dust-up on the streets of Moscow.
As a measure of their dominance, only one athlete in the top nine in the world this year hails from outside of these two race walking superpowers and both nations could have turned out several teams and threatened the podium.
The fairytale winner for many would be home favourite Olga Kaniskina, who is bidding for an unprecedented fourth successive World title in this event. The diminutive race walker, granted wildcard as World champion, was surprisingly beaten to gold by compatriot Elena Lashmanova at the London Games.
Her defeat there was a major shock as it brought to an end her five-year winning streak at major championships. In the wake of London she considered retirement, however, the 28-year-old has vowed to continue, fuelled by the lure of striking gold in the Russian capital.
Kaniskina’s form, though, is far trickier to assess. Her one and only outing in 2013 came indoors back in January over 3000m and although she set a PB she has not competed since.
Lashmanova’s form is far easier to ascertain as she boasts a perfect three out of three record over the 20km distance this year. The 21-year-old, who set a World record when securing Olympic gold in London last summer, clocked a season’s best of 1:25:49 to land the Russian title and has secured IAAF Challenge victories in Rio Maior and Sesto San Giovanni.
Joining the pair on the Russian team are 2011 World bronze medallist Anisya Kirdyapkina and 2010 European bronze medallist Vera Sokolova.
Kirdyapkina has enjoyed a splendid season, finishing runner-up behind Lashmanova at the Russian Championships before winning the European Cup and gold at the World University Games. Sokolova, meanwhile, finished one place behind Kirdyapkina at the Russian Championships and European Cup. Both should mount a strong challenge.
Leading the Chinese assault will be Liu Hong, the 2009 World bronze and 2011 World silver medallist. The 26-year-old, who has also finished an agonising fourth at the past two Olympic Games, is clearly on song as evinced by a first place in Lugano (1:27:06) and second spot at the prestigious National Games.
Also competing for China will be Li Yanfei, who set a personal best of 1:27:40 when finishing second at her National Championships. Sun Huanhuan (1:27:36), the winner in Taicang, and Olympic bronze medallist Shenjie Qieyang complete the powerful Chinese challenge.
Outside of ‘the big two’ nations, expect Mirna Ortiz of Guatemala, the 2011 Pan American Games silver medallist, to be competitive. Ortiz has set has two national records this season, recording 1:28:54 for second in Lugano before trimming a further 23 seconds from that time in Rio Maior when again finishing second.
Portuguese walkers have a good tradition and watch out for Ines Henriques, the winner of the IAAF Challenge meet in Chihuahua. The 33-year-old veteran, who finished seventh at the 2007 World Championships, set a personal best of 1:29:30 to win in La Coruna.
Her countrywoman Ana Cabecinha (1:29:21) has also enjoyed a good season with three top three positions in IAAF Race Walking Challenge meets. Meanwhile, 2009 World Championships fifth-place finisher Vera Santos completes the strong Portuguese threat.
The 2011 World University Games champion Julia Takacs, who last month set a national 10,000m record of 42:32.74 at the Spanish Championships, is another strong contender. Meanwhile, her compatriot Beatriz Pascual, who has placed in the top eight at the past two Olympic Games, is another to be respected.
Also entered are Katarzyna Kwoka, who set a Polish 20km record of 1:29.21 in Lugano, and Italy’s experienced 2008 Olympic bronze medallist and 2011 World Championships fourth placer Elisa Rigaudo.
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Steve Landells for the IAAF