John Payn discovered his niche in athletics late in life.

And this week, the 74-year-old Chorley Athletic Club member has flown out to Italy looking for his third World Championship medal.

The World Masters Athletics Championships for athletes aged 35 and over are taking place at Riccione, and John has entered the 20 kilometre Road Walk.

Athletics captured his imagination during the marathon running boom of the early 80s, and he started running in 1982 aged 49.

He completed the Stockport Daffodil Marathon as a runner, but always enjoyed walking, and when he hit his sixties, Chorley race walker Bill Maxwell showed him the rudiments of the sport.

He entered the 50 mile long Manchester to Blackpool race and returned around 11 hours. And in 1999, he took the chance to enter his first World Championships as it was being held in this country. John had no expectations of success, and was just about to leave Gateshead after his event when one of his team-mates asked him to hang on for a few minutes. "It was the biggest surprise of my life" says John, as it was announced that the Great Britain over 60s team had won the bronze medal behind the USA and Germany.

It wasn't until his wife's death in 2003 that he started to travel abroad.

With the World Championships being held in odd years and the Europeans in between, his second appearance at a major tournament was the Worlds at San Sebastian in Spain during 2005.

By this time he was an over 70 veteran, the team won the silver, again in the 20K road walk, but there was personal success as he was the first counter.

The following year, they became the European Champions at Poznan in Poland. There are also Indoor Championships during the winter and last year the team won the silver medal in the 10 kilometres at Linz in Austria. Payn thinks his team could do well this weekend, but his main problem could be to finish among the first three Brits to be a counter as he has now reached the top of his age bracket.

His great ambition is to win an individual medal, and his time could come next year as he enters the over 75s.

"I'm looking forward to it," he says: "but I'm aware I could be wishing my life away."

As well as being a member of Chorley AC, John is also with the Lancashire Walking Club based at Simister, Manchester, and is a qualified coach.

Unfortunately, race walking is still not popular and there are no British stars like Don Thompson to inspire the youngsters.

Lancashire especially is very sparse and races typically attract fewer than 30 entrants. In 20 years only one local youngster has come through the ranks, to win the U17s National Championship.