Rome, which has had just four months to prepare for this weekend’s International Association of Athletics Federations’ World Race Walking Team Championships – switched from Cheboksary following the suspension of the All-Russia Athletic Federation pending doping investigations – is dedicating the event to its 1997 world champion Annarita Sidoti, who died of breast cancer last year aged 45.
Speaking on the eve of competition, the Local Organising Committee President, Alfio Giomi said: “We were keen to host this event is because we wanted to pay tribute to Annarita Sidoti.
"I’d like to thank the IAAF for giving us the opportunity of dedicating this competition to her.”
Russia’s suspension will inevitably have a big, if not overwhelming bearing on the destination of the medals in the three main events – the men’s 20 and 50 kilometres walks, and the women’s 20km walk.
The last staging of this event in Taicang in China two years ago saw Russia providing the bronze medallist in the men’s 20km thanks to Andrey Ruzavin, and the gold and silver medallists in the men’s 50km through Mikhail Ryzhov and Ivan Noskov.
They also won gold and bronze medals in the women’s 20km through Anisya Kirdyapkina, wife of the now suspended former Olympic champion Sergey Kirdyapkin, and Elmira Alembekova.
All except Kirdyakpkina have since been suspended after doping irregularities.
Home supporters will be willing Eleonora Giorgi to win the women’s 20km – and she appears to be the only race walker capable of breaking the stranglehold of the top five on the 2016 world list dominated by China.
World record-holder and number one Liu Hong - who is familiar with the host country having trained with Sandro Damilano since 2010 at Saluzzo, south of Turin - looks capable of winning even though a recent cold may have taken the edge off her form and team-mates Qieyang Shenjie and Lu Xiuzhi look strongly placed to challenge.
Tallent will want to regain the title he won at the 2012 edition of these Championships.
The 31-year-old Australian has had a quiet 2016 so far, but the world silver medallist shows no signs of slowing down and warmed up for Rome by posting a swift 1 hour 21min 50sec over 20km in Taicang last month.
In the absence of France’s injured 50km world record holder, Yohan Diniz, China appears ready to take over the honours from Russia having assembled the strongest looking team.
Led by 37-year-old Han Yucheng, who came out of retirement last year, the Chinese field five men who have this year gone faster than 3:49 – no other man on the entry list has bettered 3:51.
Also competing will be Spain’s 46-year-old Jesus Angel Garcia, the 1993 world champion, making his 12th consecutive appearance at these Championships.
In the men’s 20km event, two-time world silver medallist Wang Zhen has the fastest personal best of all the entrants, and the Asian Games champion has more than enough pedigree to repeat his 2012 World Cup win in Saransk – especially after a 1:19:12 victory in China’s Olympic trial race.
Olympic champion Chen Ding and 2014 World Cup silver medallist Cai Zelin will also be in Rome, but the top three race walkers on the 2016 world list all come from Japan and two of those will be racing in the Italian capital.
Even without injured world record-holder Yusuke Suzuki, the Japanese trio of Eiki Takahashi, Isamu Fujisawa and Takumi Saito should dominate.