Mexico's national team took centre stage during the 16th Pan American Race Walking Cup, part of the 2013 IAAF Race Walking Challenge, which had a record 140 athletes competing in Guatemala City, Guatemala on Saturday and Sunday (25-26).
In the men’s 20km on Saturday, Mexico’s Diego Flores was far a little off the best form he showed at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge race in Rio Maior, Portugal, when he clocked a personal best of 1:21:56, but his effort of 1:24.16 was enough to win ahead of Colombia’s Jose Arevalo, who was second in 1:24.35, with Brazil’s Caio Oliveira De Sena a distant third in 1:25.57.
"It was tough, but it’s not every day you feel in a position to achieve your personal best. I hope I can do it again in the coming months and better if it's in Moscow," said the 26-year-old Flores, who pulled away from his rivals from halfway and had the luxury of being able to ease back in the final kilometre.
Mexican superiority was also demonstrated on Sunday when they achieved a clean sweep of the men’s 50km medals.
Omar Zepeda, now 35 and a modest 23rd at the London 2012 Olympic Games, got the biggest win of his career when he crossed the line in 3:57.52, eight seconds in front of his compatriot and favourite Horacio Nava, who has won over the same distance at the 2011 Pan American Games and taken a memorable silver medal in front of his ecstatic home crowd at the 2010 World Race Walking Cup in Chihuahua. Another Mexican, Omar Mendoza, finished third in 4:03.11.
“This (the clean sweep) was our goal and we reached it. We´re very happy and now getting focused on the World Championships. Together we can give a very hard fight to Russians and Chinese race walkers," commented Zepeda, in the belief that Mexican walking can bounce back from the disappointment of the Olympics last year when not only did they fail to get a medal but also only had one man – Eder Sanchez, who finished sixth in the 20km – in the top 15 of either of the men’s races.
Garcia breaks new ground for Peru
Peru triumphed in the women’s 20km thanks to Kimberly Garcia, who won in 1:35.01.
Garcia, just 19, excelled to take more than five minutes off her best time, and was pushed to new heights, by another 19-year-old, Colombia’s 2012 World Junior Championships 10000m bronze medallist Sandra Arenas , who took second place with 1:35:15. Mexico’s Yanelli Caballero was also in the fray for much of the race but finished third with 1:35.19.
“I’m speechless right now. It’s a great moment and a great time for me. I’ve been working so hard to win a medal in the Pan American Cup, and gold means an accomplished mission. I’m very excited and want to give this medal to everyone who supported me” said Garcia, Peru’s first female and senior champion.
The 10km junior titles were been shared between Mexico and Colombia. In women’s race, Mexico’s Alejandra Ortega, who set an Area junior record of 46:00, when taking the silver medal at last year’s World Race Walking Cup, was a comfortable winner in 49.13, coming home more than two minutes in front of the Peruvian silver medallist Jessica Hancero, who clocked 51:31
The junior men’s contest was much closer, and Colombia had its only Cup victory thanks to Manuel Soto, who won in 41:19, taking more than a minute off his best despite racing at 1500m altitude.
In a close finish, Mexico’s Erick Gonzalez was second with 41:27 and his countryman Ivan Garrido third 41:33.
For many of the walkers in Guatemala, the Cup was the last big competition for athletes from the area before the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow this summer.
Sadly, neither of the host country’s two big stars of the discipline was on the start line in Guatemala City.
However, London 2012 Olympic Games 20km silver medallist Erick Barrondo and Women’s 20km Area record holder Mirna Ortiz have announced that they will race at the Dublin Grand Prix of Race Walking, the penultimate IAAF Race Walking Challenge event and the last major meeting before the IAAF World Championships, which concludes the 2013 series.
Fernando Ruiz Del Valle for the IAAF