Racewalkers will be among the biggest beneficiaries. Olympic records will likely fall in all three events: the women's 20 kilometers, and the men's 20-kilometer and 50-kilometer races, with a near-certain world record in the increasingly competitive women's event.
Here's what I see happening:
Women's 20 kilometers
Sydney will offer the first Olympic 20 kilometers for women, so newcomers are not necessarily at a disadvantage. Young speedsters will prevail. Kerry Saxby-Junna and Jane Sayville will give Aussies hope by hanging with the lead pack through 15 kilometers, but will not be up to the task when the stronger Russian, Chinese and Italian walkers put the hammer down.
Russian Champion Tatyana Gudkova will take the gold with a new world record in the 1:24:30 range, while China's Liu Hongliu, coming off wins at Rio Major, Leamington Spa and Naumburg, will settle for silver.
Italians Erica Alfridi, Elisabetta Perrone, and Annarita Sidoti will give it a good fight, but the bronze will go to Russias Irina Stankina. On the American side, Michelle Rohl will move up through the pack to claim 14th place in 1:31:00, while 1992 Olympic champion Yueling Chen will hang with the lead pack for 12 kilometers before falling back to 21st. Deb Lawrence will play it smart, and take a respectable 32nd.
Men's 20 kilometers
Russian racewalkers are like sharks teeth: When one falls out, there's always another to take its place.
Mikhail Schennikov and Ilya Markov may be out of the running this time around Schennikov seems to be retired; Markov was recently injured in a serious car accident while training in New Zealand but look for a deadly sharp Russian champ, Roman Rasskasov, to take a bite out of '96 Olympic 50K Champion Robert Korzeniowski's golden dreams assuming the Pole chooses to double up in the 20K and 50K races.
Germany's Andreas Erm, European Cup silver medallist, will take silver again, or bronze if Korzeniowski is in the race. Mikhail Khmelnitskiy of Belarus should edge out Chinas Liu Yungfeng for the bronze again, depending on Korzeniowski's intentions.
Nineteen ninety-six gold medalist Jefferson Perez will hang with the lead pack for much of the race, but his chances of repeating are slim. Spain's Francisco Fernandez and Mexico's Alejandro Lopez are good dark-horse bets for medals. Australia may place two walkers in the top ten, but none will medal. The USA's Tim Seaman will walk a smart and steady race for 23rd (1:23:20).
Men's 50 kilometers
The 50K is always a crap shoot. Early leaders can flame out horribly, while slow-starting vultures often take down the hares by patiently waiting for the early leaders to fall.
If Robert Korzienowski opts to double not a sure bet with the blazing 20K times he turned in this spring he's a near lock for the gold again. Otherwise, we could see a Russian sweep of all three racewalking gold medals, as Valeriy Spitsyn has the experience and speed for the win, as evidenced by his unbelievable 3:37:26 this spring in Moscow (hard to argue with a sub-7:00 mile pace for 31 miles!).
Finland's Valentin Kononen, always a bridesmaid, will settle for silver or bronze if Korzeniowski gets his double. Spain's Jesus Garcia, playing his usual waiting game, will come up short, but should still break 3:40.
Mexicans Daniel Garcia and Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Italy's Giovanni Pericelli will finish strong, but there wont be any red, white and green flags being raised. Poland's Tomasz Lipiec will have a nice breakthrough but will finish in the second half of the top 10.
American Curt Clausen, fourth at last years World Championships, may not be up to full strength after a recent knee surgery. He'll lead training partner Andrew Hermann through 35 kilometers, but Hermann will pull away to take 11th (3:50:40) to Claussen's 14th (3:52:12). Philip Dunn doesn't have the speed to challenge the leaders, but he has the experience to break 4:00 and finish in the top 25.
The men's 20K will take place at 12:50 pm (Sydney time) on Sept. 22; the women's 20K is at 10:45 a.m. on the 28th; and the men's 50K is at 8 a.m. on the 29th.
Dave McGovern is a member of the US National Racewalking Team, a racewalking coach and the author of The Complete Guide to Racewalking and The Complete Guide to Marathon Walking. Visit his Worldclass Racewalking Web site at: www.surf.to/worldclass.