Reigning World champion Jefferson Perez from Equador and 2000 Olympic silver medallist Kjersti Plätzer clinched solid wins at the 51st edition of the Coppa Città di Sesto San Giovanni - IAAF Race Walking Challenge - on a very warm day.
Perez from the gun - men’s race
Perez, former Olympic champion in Atlanta 1996 and a three-time World champion in the 20 km race, beat local hero Ivano Brugnetti from Italy, who is the reigning 20 km Olympic champion. Perez clocked his seasonal best (1:20:31 to Brugnetti’s 1:20:51). Last year’s winner Erik Tysse finished third in 1:21:40.
Perez took the early lead during the first of three initial laps of the Pino Dordoni track and never gave up this position. The south-american walking star was followed by a chasing duo formed by Ivano Brugnetti and Eric Tysse.
Perez covered the first 5 km in 20:29 building a gap of 10 seconds over Brugnetti and Tysse. Thanks to a 2 km split between 5 and 7 km covered in 8:04 Brugnetti and Tysse closed the gap on Perez. This trio remained in the lead until 9 km.
Perez and Brugnetti went to the front on the fifth lap, dropping Tysse. Perez increased the pace, covering the 3 km split between 12 and 15 km in 11:41, to Brugnetti’s 11:55. Perez, who was pushed by the loud support of his compatriots along the course, passed the 15 km mark in 1:00:30 (with a 5 km split in 19:45) breaking away from Brugnetti and increasing his lead to15 seconds.
Perez clocked a final 5 km split between 15 and 20 km in 20:00 to finish in 1:20:31, twenty seconds ahead of Brugnetti.
After crossing the finish line Perez celebrated his well-deserved win with a big group of fans from the Equadoran community living in Italy.
“It is a big surprise to find so many compatriots,” Perez said. “I felt at home. It’s the first time I won in Sesto San Giovanni. I am happy with my final time of 1:20:31 because today it was too warm.”
For Brugnetti it was a confidence-booster ahead of the upcoming IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Cheboksary where he will not face Perez, who will skip the Russian race in order to focus on the Olympic Games.
“I equalled my best performance here in Sesto San Giovanni,” said Brugnetti, who will become father for the second time at the end of June. “I finished second in 2004 behind my friend Alessandro Gandellini in the year of my Olympic gold medal in Athens. I expected such a race from Perez because I know that he will not compete in the World Cup. For me the Sesto race in my town is very special. It’s like the Olympic Games. I will not aim at a particular result. I will take what comes.”
“Ivano made one of his best races in his career,” said Brugnetti’s coach Antonio La Torre. “He walked well between 15 and 17 km and clocked the final km in 4:01.”
Second San Sesto victory for Plätzer - women’s race
Kjersti Tysse Plätzer, older sister of Eric, notched up a solid win in the 20 km women’s race, beating reigning Olympic champion Athanasia Tsoumeleka from Greece. For the 36-year-old experienced Norwegian walker, the Olympic silver medallist in Sydney 2000, it was the second win in Sesto in eight appearances.
A trio formed by Tsoumeleka, Plätzer and Claudia Stef from Romania took the lead in the first of nine laps dropping Tatyana Korotkova from Russia. In the first half of the race Plätzer and Tsoumeleka engaged a neck-and-neck battle. After two laps Stef lost ground on the leading duo who increased the pace after a cautious start in the initial kilometres. They passed the first 5 km in 23:17.
When Plätzer increased the pace for the first time in the fourth lap, only Tsoumeleka managed to keep her pace, while Claudia Stef lost the ground.
Plätzer tried a second breakaway attempt shortly before the 10 km. After passing the 10 km halfway in 45:40 the Norwegian began to push building a gap of 5 seconds on Tsoumeleka who did not give up and managed to resist to the attack launched by the Norwegian.
Plätzer changed gear and her lead over Tsoumeleka continued to grow kilometre after kilometre. She reached the 15 km mark in 1:07:47. Tsoumeleka was 10 seconds adrift with 5 km to go. Plätzer crossed the finish line inside the Pino Dordoni athletics stadium in 1:30:07 beating Tsoumeleka by 14 seconds.
Thanks to her third win in Sesto San Giovanni after Chihuahua and Rio Major the Norwegian increased her lead in the IAAF Walking Challenge Ranking with a total score of 30 points. After the race Plätzer celebrated her victory doing a lap of honour with Tsoumeleka in front of the supportive crowd from Sesto San Giovanni who packed the small stand of the stadium named after late Giuseppe Pino Dordoni, Olympic champion in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki.
“It’s special to win in Sesto,” said Plätzer. “It was my eighth race here. Local people supported me along the course shouting my name loudly. During the race I heard them saying “Kjersti, Kjersti.”
“I realized I could win only when I was inside the stadium,” Plätzer continued. “Today conditions were perfect. It was very slow at the beginning. Then I pushed and I could do it until the end.”
“Today it was important to control the race. It’s a perfect start on the way to Beijing. Before the Olympic Games I will compete at the World Cup in Cheboksary and in La Coruna. I will skip Krakow because my brother Erik marries that day. I will train in St. Moritz and Livigno with the italian team. My last test before Beijing will be the Norwegian Championships on the track, then I will leave to China on 8 August. I don’t fear pollution because it will be the same for everybody. It will be my last chance to win an Olympic medal,” Plätzer concluded.
Tsoumeleka was delighted with her second place. “It was my first time in Sesto San Giovanni. The weather conditions were good. Local crowd are knowledgeable and very supportive. I have three more races before Beijing, in Cheboksary for the World Cup, La Coruna and Krakow,” said Tsoumeleka, who followed up her Olympic triumph with maternity leave.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
1. Jefferson Perez (Equador) 1:20:31
2. Ivano Brugnetti (Italy) 1:20:51
3. Eric Tysse (Norway) 1:21:40
4. Rolando Saquipai (Equador) 1:24:21
5. José Alessandro Bagio (Brazil) 1:24:30
6. Jesus Angel Garcia (Spain) 1:25:19
7. Mario Ivan Flores Hernandez (Mexico) 1:25:46
8. Alex Schwazer (Italy) 1:26:07
9. Benjamin Kucinskij (Poland) 1:26:33
10. David Dominguez (Spain) 1:27:05
Women’s race -
1. Kjersti Plätzer (Norway) 1:30:07
2. Athanasia Tsoumeleka (Greece) 1:30:21
3. Claudia Stef (Romania) 1:32:52
4. Evangelia Xynou (Greece) 1:33:03
5. Tatyana Korotkova (Russia) 1:34:26
6. Tania Regina Splinder (Brazil) 1:34:39
7. Alessandra Picagevicz (Brazil) 1:35:48
8. Laura Polli (Switzerland) 1:37:33
9. Patrizia Bassetto (Italy) 1:43:20
10. Marta Moientale (Italy) 2:05:53