Preview Lisbon, Portugal

Focus on Santos in Rio Maior – IAAF Race Walking Challenge preview

Vera Santos of Portugal on her way to winning the bronze medal (Getty Images)Vera Santos of Portugal on her way to winning the bronze medal (Getty Images) © Copyright
In the absence of local heroine Susana Feitor, the most renowned name in Portuguese Race Walking, the spotlight will fall on another local, Vera Santos, as the IAAF Race Walking Challenge continues on Saturday at the 19th Grande Premio Internacional en Marcha Atletica in Rio Maior.

Santos literally quite at home in Rio Maior

In the women’s 20Km, local girl Santos is one of this year’s favourites. Santos, who was fifth at last year’s World Championships and third in the 2008 Race Walking Cup, will be looking for her first victory in Rio Maior after finishing second a year ago. Santos, who has a 1:28:14 career best from 2008, opened her season with a 1:30:09 victory at the Portuguese championships in Olhão in late February, and is keenly eyeing this summer’s European Championships in Barcelona where she hopes to add another continental superlative to her 2003 European Under 23 title.

Among her chief competition is another local girl, Inês Henriques (PB 1:30:24, 2007). The 29-year-old, who was seventh at the 2007 World Championships, finished third this year in Lugano 1:32:31), where she finished behind Yanfei Li and Li Li of China, who will also compete in Rio Maior.

Yanfei Li, the 2008 World junior bronze medalist, has a 1:28:57 career best while Li Li produced her best effort to date in Lugano with 1:31:33.

Also in the first line is also Ireland’s Olive Loughnane (pb: 1.27.45), who impressively followed up a seventh place showing at the 2008 Olympic Games with World silver last year.

Others to watch include Portuguese Ana Cabecinha (1:27:46), the eighth place finisher at the 2008 Olympic Games, the European Junior bronze medallist, Portuguese record holder, and runner-up to Santos this year in Olhão; Beatriz Pascual (1:27:44) of Spain, who was sixth in the 2008 Olympics; German Melanie Seeger (1:28:17), a fifth place finisher at the 2004 Olympic Games; Lithuania’s Kristina Saltanovic (1:30:44), the eighth place finisher at last year’s World Championships who is based in Portugal; and another Spaniard, Julia Takacs, who has a PB of 1:31:42). Other chasing World Challenge points include Laura Polli (1:35:04) of Switzerland, Brazilians Tania Spindler (1:33:23) and Cisiane Dutra Lopes (1:33:44); Mexican Maria del Rosário Sanchez (1:30:52), and Tunisian Chaima Trabelsi (1:37:44).

Wide open men’s race

In an open men’s 20Km competition, the key attention will focus on Norway’s Erik Tysse, Eder Sanchez of Mexico, and Frenchman Yohan Diniz.

Tysse, who won here in 2008 and finished third in 2007 and 2009, was seventh over the distance at the World Championships last year. Sanchez, who has a 1:18:34 career best, took World bronze a year ago while Diniz is the reigning European champion in the 50Km, and the 2007 World silver medalist over the longer distance.

But there will be others in the chase. Among them is the 2008 South American champion, Luis Fernando Lopéz (1:20:03) of Colombia, who was fifth at the World Championships last year and the winner this year in Dolores Hidalgo ahead of Sanchez. The field also includes Poland’s Grzegorz Sudol (1:20:50), fourth at the 2009 World Championship, and third in Lugano last month; China’s Ding Chen (1:20:16), the silver medallist over 10Km at the World Junior Championships and fifth in Lugano this year; China’s Zhen Wang (1:22:03), sixth in Lugano; Slovak Matej Toth (1:20:53), sixth over the 20Km at the 2006 European championships; Korean Hyunsub Kim (1:19:41), the winner in Kobe this year; and Germany’s Andre Hohne (1:20:00), who was fifth at the World Championships last year and third in Rio Maior in 2008.

Portuguese attention will focus on twin brothers João and Sérgio Vieira. João, who has a 1:20:09) PB, took bronze over the distance at the 2006 European championships while Sérgio, who was second in Olhão this year, has a career best of 1:20:58). Not to be discounted are Spain’s José Ignacio Diaz (1:21:48) and Mikel Odriozola (1:22:29), Tunisian Hatem Ghoula (1:19:02), and Portugal’s reigning 50Km champion Dionísio Ventura (1:27:38).

António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF