The northern Mexican city of Chihuahua is set to welcome the world’s best for the fourth consecutive year as it prepares to host the second leg of the 2011 IAAF Race Walking Challenge on 5 March.
After successfully hosting the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in May 2010, the first on Mexican soil since 1993, Chihuahua expects many of the top walking specialists to test their form early in a season which will reach its climax at the World Championships in Daegu and the IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final in La Coruna, Spain, on 17 September.
The host country’s top specialists will take the event as a qualifier for the Pan American Games, to be held on home soil in Guadalajara from 13-30 October.
High expectations for the hosts
The two best ranked men in the 50Km race will represent Mexico in the continental showpiece.
Expectations are high for Mexico’s top walkers, including 2009 World Championships 20Km bronze medallist and 2009 Challenge winner Eder Sanchez and Chihuahua local hero Horacio Nava, a 50Km silver medallist at the 2010 World Cup on home turf.
Other established names are Jesús Sánchez, Omar Zepeda, Mariela Sánchez Terán, Rosario Sánchez, Graciela Mendoza, the 1993 World Cup silver medallist, who continues her illustrious career at the age of 47.
Chihuahua will also welcome the emerging local athletes. Among them 2009 World Youth Championships runner-up and 2010 Youth Olympic Games fifth placer Yanelli Caballero, who will make her debut in an IAAF Race Walking Challenge event.
“I am hoping for a good result. I have only been in the race walking for three years and this will be my first Challenge (event). I was only a spectator last year and my target now is to achieve a good time in the 10km as a junior. My long-term aim is to break 46 minutes,” Caballero said at a recent press conference in Mexico City.
“I am excited to race at home. It is special for me although many of the athletes (in the junior race) are local,” she added.
Fresh off his national title, two-time Olympic medallist Jarred Tallent and Luke Adams will represent Australian colours over 20Km in Chihuahua.
At a press conference, Chihuahua Sports Institute director Luis Alfonso Rivera assured his state is capable of hosting such top class event. “We are excited to organize the Challenge for the third time. It will be a boost for Mexican society, especially for the northern states.”
Organisers expect over 100 athletes from over 20 nations, including race walking powers like Russia, Portugal and other European countries.
Five races will be held during the walking festival on 5 March. The 50Km men's contest will start at 8:00am, followed by the junior women’s 10Km (9:00am), the junior men’s 10Km (10:15), the women’s 20Km at 2:00pm and the men’s 20Km at 4:00pm.
Chihuahua, founded in 1709, is the capital of the largest state of Mexico, also called Chihuahua. Sitting 1415 metres above sea level on the western side of the Chihuahan desert, the city of 841,490 inhabitants derives its name from the Tarahumara language, meaning "between two waters".
The city’s main economic activity is industry, including domestic heavy, light industries and consumer goods production.
Organisers are serious in keeping the city on the world athletics map as they aim to bid for the 2014 World Half Marathon Championships.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF