A look ahead to the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships in Rome

Tom Bosworth leads the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team challenge at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships from May 7-8, writes Ian Richards.

Rome was the venue for one of the greatest moments in British race walking history when Don Thompson won the 1960 Olympic 50km in searing temperatures having famously prepared in his homemade heat chamber in his bathroom.

Bosworth has set British records over 3000m and 5000m indoors and produced a stunning breakthrough performance in Dudince in Slovakia in March to smash the long-standing British record over 20km when clocking 80:41.

Bosworth will look to beat his 24th place in last summer’s World Championships in Beijing.

He will be joined in the men’s 20km by Dominic King who will compete over 50km in Rio.

With the absence of the banned Russian team, among the favourites for the 20km title will be Spain’s reigning world 20km race walk champion Miguel Angel Lopez. A strong Chinese team will be led by Olympic champion Chen Ding, supported by two-time world silver medallist Wang Zhen, 2014 World Cup silver medallist Cai Zelin, national champion Wang Kaihua, and 2013 Asian silver medallist Li Tianlei.

A strong South American challenge will be led by Olympic silver medallist Eric Barrondo of Guatemala. Outsiders for medals include Australia’s Dane Bird Smith, a strong Canadian team led by world bronze medallist Benjamin Thorne and Inaki Gomez and South Africa’s Lebogang Shange and Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom, who took victory in Podébrady last month in 79:11.

The Japanese trio of Eiki Takahashi (78:26), Isamu Fujisawa (78:45) and Daisuke Matsunaga (78:53) head the world rankings.

Ukraine were surprise team winners in Taicang two years ago, but reigning champion Ruslan Dmytrenko has not been in the form of 2014. Another potential outside bet for a medal is German Christopher Linke who was second in Podébrady in 79:19.

Britain has high hopes in the junior men’s 10km. Callum Wilkinson set a British record of 41:31 in Coventry in March. He has since won international races in Dudince and Podébrady and is ranked ninth on season bests of those entered.

He will be supported by Cameron Corbishley, who set a PB of 43.05 in Podébrady, and Guy Thomas, who clocked 43:15, and the team will target a top six finish. Chinese and Japanese athletes look to battle it out for team and individual honours.

Making her debut in the World Team Championships, Welsh record-holder Bethan Davies will target the British qualifying time of 93:00 for Rio in the women’s 20km. She moved to second on the UK all-time list over 10km when clocking 44:59 in Coventry in March.

One of the hottest favourites for a title in Rome is Chinese world record-holder Liu Hong, who set the world’s best time of 84:38 in La Coruna last year. She will be hoping to become China’s first winner of the women’s 20km at these championships since 1999.

She will be joined in a full-strength team by world silver medallist Lu Xiuzhi, Olympic silver medallist Qieyang Shenjie, 2013 National Games winner Nie Jingjing, and 20-year-old Yang Jiayu, who took silver in the junior 10km in Taicang two years ago.

The home crowd will get behind Italian duo Eleonora Giorgi, who clocked 88:05 in winning in Dudince and was second in last year’s European Cup, and the 35-year-old Beijing Olympic Bronze medallist Elisa Rigaudo.

Brazil’s Erica De Sena leads the South American challenge, while Spain and Portugal will feature in the battle for the team medals alongside China and Italy.

In the junior women’s 10km, Emma Achurch is ranked 14th of those entered on season’s bests and comes into the event on the back of a personal best of 47:49 she clocked when finishing fourth in Podébrady. The Chinese trio  of Ma Li (44:41), Ma Zhenxia (44:29) and Zhang Lifang (44:30) top the world rankings and look set to dominate the individual and team honour.

With many of the world’s top 50km walkers absent through injury, like world champion Matej Toth and world record-holder Yohann Diniz, and others competing in the 20km like 2013 world champion in Robert Heffernan, Olympic champion Jared Tallent of Australia will start as the favourite.

He will face a strong challenge from a Chinese team led by Han Yucheng, a bronze medallist at the 2006 World Race Walking Cup.

The 46-year-old Spanish veteran Jesus Angel Garcia was the winner of this title as long ago as 1997 and was world champion 23 years ago in Stuttgart in 1993, before several competitors in Rome were even born.

Italian 2008 Olympic champion Alex Schwazer has not raced since before the London Olympic Games, prior to which he failed a drugs test, and is a controversial addition to the Italian team.

Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom, who took victory over 20km in Podébrady last month in 79:11, will look to use this new found speed to smash his personal best of 3:52:43.

The USA’s Erin Taylor-Talcott will make history when she is part of the USA’s 50km team following the IAAF rule change that has enabled women to compete over the distance.

You can follow the action from Rome with results here, while @UKRacewalknews on Twitter will provide live updates.