© Copyright – 2016 – Athletics Illustrated

The 2016 IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships will be taking place in Rome, Italy on May 7th and May 8th. Athletics Canada is sending four athletes to compete for a team medal in the 20-kilometre competition, a podium finish is anticipated.

Last time out, during the 2014 IAAF Taicang, China competition, three of the four Canadians that will be competing this year finished in very respectable 11th, 12th and 13th positions to finish one point out from winning the team bronze medal. Their finish times were 1:20:13 for Evan Dunfee, which was a new national record at the time, while Iñaki Gomez and Benjamin Thorne were just one second apart at the finish line recording times of 1:20:18 and 1:20:19, respectively. The fourth to join them in Rome will be Mathieu Bilodeau.

“We will require one of us to finish on the podium individually (or at least top-five) followed by another two athletes in the top-12; given the way the team has been training and performing all season, we believe that a top-three team performance is achievable,” Said Gomez, when asked what it will take to medal.

Bilodeau’s 20-kilometre personal best is 1:25:48, while his 50K best is 3:53:56, which he set in March in Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire. His 50K best is under the 2016 Rio Olympic standard of 3:54:20. The standard for the 20K event is 1:21:55. He appears ready to improve his 20K best.

“I am just back to training this week, I am getting ready to race along with this incredible team,” Said Calgary’s Bilodeau. “It is an honour to be named on this team with Ben, Evan and Iñaki. I am going to Rome with the mindset of learning from them and to do a huge personal best.”

Twenty three-year-old Thorne of Kitimat owns a world-class best of 1:19:57, which he set while earning a bronze medal at the 2015 IAAF World Track and Field Championships that took place in Beijing, China.

Thorne told Athletics Illustrated, “I have high expectations for the World Team Championships. I want the team to walk away with nothing less than a medal (hopefully silver or gold). And individually I want a personal best. If I were to PB it should be enough to get in the top-eight, maybe even an individual medal if everyone else messes up like they did in Beijing last year. I think my preparation this year will be the best ever for any race I’ve done – and I reckon the rest of the guys will be in top form as well – so I expect big things from our team.”

Gomez’s personal best is 1:19:20, which he set on March 20th this year in Nomi, Japan during the Asian Race Walking Championships. It is currently the national record; he is highly fit.

Asked about expectations of weather and how it will affect their performance Gomez replied, “Weather is unpredictable these days; however, average temperatures for Rome in May trend around low to mid 20’s. If the temperatures are somewhere in the mid-20’s on the day, one can expect some fast times. Nevertheless, whatever the conditions are on the day, we plan to be ready to race. We have proven time and time again that our preparations account for these variance factors, so come May 7th, we will go out there expecting to perform.”

Although Canada finished ahead of Russia in the 20K team competition in Taicang, one Russian finished ahead of them in the individual results, Andrey Ruzavin finished third in the time of 1:18:59.

During the 50K competition, the Russians took three of the top four positions. Russia is currently banned from all athletics competitions, although no Russian walked faster than Dunfee at the 2015 Beijing world championships, he finished in 12th position in the time of 3:49:56, while wearing bib number 20.

Dunfee currently owns the national 50K record, which he set in Melbourne, Australia in December 2015 at the Australian 50K Championships by finishing in the time of 3:43.45. The old record of 3:47:48 stood since 1981 and was held by Marcel Jobin of Parent, Quebec.

“After setting the 50K record back in December it will be a nice change of pace to step down to the 20K to help the team out.  For us to have the Pan-Am Champ, World Champ Bronze Medalist and National Record holder on the team in three different people, it shows that we know how to step it up when it counts. With Mathieu coming off an outstanding 50K Olympic qualifier he will be a tremendous asset to this team and the event will allow him to gain valuable experience racing with the best in the world,” said Dunfee.

The current world record in the 20K is 1:16:36, held by Japanese walker Yusuke Suzuki. Suzuki achieved the record during the 2015 Asian Race Walking Championships.

The current 50K world record is 3:32:33 and is held by Frenchman Yohann Diniz, which he achieved at the 2014 European Championships that took place in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Rome competition includes 10K and 20K men’s and women’s competitions on Friday, May 7th, while the 50K men’s competition happens on May 8th.