Portugal’s Chihuahua defending champion Ines Henriques claimed her third consecutive 20km win, Norway’s Erick Tysse took the 50km title and Issac Palma gave the host country its only elite victory on Saturday as the 11th edition of the annual IAAF Race Walking Challenge got underway in the northern Mexican city of Chihuahua on Saturday (23).
One week after battling out for the Portuguese 3000m indoor title, Henriques and 2012 Challenge runner-up Ana Cabecinha took an early lead and passed the first half in 46:49, almost a minute ahead of their closest rivals.
Henriques then moved away from her countrywoman around the 12km mark and built up an 11-second lead before cruising to victory in 1:33:46 on the new 2km loop course on Paseo Bolivar, ahead of Cabecinha, who completed a 1-2 for Portugal in 1:34:14.
Except for her first visit in 2007, Henriques has always claimed a podium finish in the Mexican leg of the Challenge, including a bronze medal at the 2010 IAAF World Race Walking Cup.
Monica Equihua repeated her third-place performance from 2012 in 1:35:29, leading the local walkers and securing a spot on the Mexican team for the forthcoming Pan American Cup in Lima, Peru.
“I am very happy to have won in Chihuahua again. Changing a course did not affect me. If you are in good shape, you can walk well. I feel very comfortable here,” said Henriques.
The Portuguese joins Norway’s Kjertsi Platzer as the only women to win in Chihuahua three times.
Apart from the junior races, local fans had to wait until the men’s 20km race, the last race of the day, to celebrate a home win after a hard-fought battle between Palma and Canada’s Iñaki Gómez over the final stages of the race.
A 10-man pack led the proceedings in the first half of the race, covered in 42:24. The group had shrank to half that size five kilometres later and down to four after 18-year-old Jesus Tadeo Vega was disqualified.
As the race progressed, Palma and Gómez moved to the front in the last two laps but the former found an extra gear to secure a much-awaited victory for the home audience in 1:24:02, a big improvement on his fourth place finish here last year.
His win kept the 20km supremacy at home after 2009 World Championships bronze medallist, four-time winner Eder Sanchez could not defend his title as he recovers from a recent surgery to remove a cyst.
Canadian record-holder Gómez came hone in 1:24:18 and achieved his second podium finish in the Challenge, after finishing third in Hobart in 2012.
Mexico’s Pedro Daniel Gómez in a photo-finish for third place came home in 1:24:34 to round off the podium, just ahead of Diego Hinojosa, who was given the same time and posted a personal best while Palma’s younger brother Ever finished eighth.
Chihuahua favourite Horacio Nava, the local boy and 2010 World Race Walking Cup 50km silver medallist when it was held in the same city, and Jose Leyver, both Olympians in 2012, missed the event this weekend due to injuries.
Tysse wins in his first 50km since 2009
Earlier in the day, Erik Tysse had become the first winner in the 2013 Challenge after he dominated his first 50km since October 2009. He was fifth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at that distance.
The Mexican pair of Luis Amauri Bustamante and Cristian Berdeja took an early lead, covering the first 20km in 1:32:51, half a minute ahead of Tysse and 2:20 minutes faster than a four-man group led by another Mexican dup Omar Zepeda and Omar Segura.
Berdeja could not keep up the pace, but Amauri maintained almost a half-a-minute cushion up to 35km. He was eventually overtaken by his most experienced rival.
Tysse went on to win in 3:55:23, ahead of defending champion Omar Zepeda, who finished second in 3:56:24 after clocking 47:16 for the last 10km, faster than his first 10km.
“I would like to thank the people of Chihuahua for supporting all competitors. Winning in Mexico is always an honour considering all the tradition and so many good athletes this country has,” said 32-year old Tysse, whose best performance here before was a third place at 20km in 2008.
Omar Segura completed the trio of medallists with 3:57:48. Bustamante had to settle for fourth but was still rewarded with a personal best of 3:59:07.
The 10km junior races went to Alejandra Ortega in 47:39 and Ricardo Ortiz with 43:34.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF