Zhang Yao after winning the boys' 10,000m race walk at the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017 (© Getty Images)
Zhang Yao will aim to become the first man in history to complete a full set of global age-group race walking titles.
The Chinese teenager has already won two out of a possible three, having triumphed at the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017 and in the U20 10km event at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018.
He will naturally start as the favourite in Tampere where conditions may be far kinder than in his two previous global championship appearances. He set a 10,000m PB of 41:12.01 in the altitude of Nairobi and recorded a 10km best of 40:07 in the heat and humidity of Taicang. He may need to go faster than he ever has done before to secure a third major title.
As he found out in Taicang earlier this year, he won’t have an easy ride. Teammate Wang Zhaozhao could prove to be his toughest opponent and he has been getting closer to Zhang in each of their recent races, finishing just five seconds adrift to take the silver medal in Taicang.
Japan finished a close second to China on the medals table in Taicang and they can once again be expected to provide stiff opposition in Tampere. Sho Sakazaki finished fifth in Taicang, but he’ll start the 10,000m race walk in Tampere as the athlete with the fastest PB (39:52.45) and season’s best (40:17.82) on the track.
Compatriot Tatsuhito Nagayama missed out on selection for Taicang, but that same weekend clocked a 10,000m PB of 40:55.14 in Tokyo and will be keen to impress on his major championships debut.
Guatemala’s Jose Ortiz Flores finished fifth in Nairobi and third in Taicang and will be keen to maintain that upward trajectory.
Australia’s Declan Tingay picked up three red cards in Taicang so was forced to wait in the pitlane for one minute before resuming, but he went on to place 14th.
Kenya’s Dominic Ndigiti and Ethiopia’s Yohanis Algaw represent a new wave of African race walkers and pose a very real threat. Ndigiti took bronze at last year’s World U18 Championships, while Algaw finished sixth in Taicang with an African U20 record of 40:56.
The European challenge, meanwhile, comprises the likes of 2016 European U18 champion Lukasz Niedzialek, French U20 record-holder David Kuster and Belarusian Mikita Kaliada.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF