Mexico’s 2008 World Cup bronze medallist Eder Sánchez and Norway’s defending overall Challenge champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist Kjersti Plätzer repeated their 20km victories from last year as the 2009 IAAF Race Walking Challenge got underway in this northern Mexican city.
The local favourite held off strong opposition from Colombia’s Luis Fernando Lopez in the last 5km, as did Plätzer from Portugal’s Inés Henriques to emerge as the first Challenge leaders of 2009.
The women’s race, which was flagged off two hours before the men’s event and half an hour after the opening ceremony, marked a good start for Plätzer’s farewell season.
The Norwegian and Henriques led a field of eight seven women in the first five kilometres (23:35), but the battle for the win was down to this pair at the halfway mark (46:44). Henriques walked right on her more experienced rival’s heels, but could not sustain the pace in the last quarter as the Plätzer cruised to victory in 1:33:34 hours.
“I am very happy to have won here in Chihuahua. This is the type of courses I like, with a bit of incline as it helps me aim for the victory”, Platzer told the local media in perfect Spanish.
At 37, the mother of two also reflected on her last competitive season. “This is my last year and I am happy about it. I am trying to do my best in every competition and I could not have started in a better way than winning here”, said Plätzer, who showed her desire to return to Chihuahua to accompany her younger brother Erick and husband-coach Stephan Plätzer for the 2010 World Cup.
Henriques (1:34:02) was rewarded with her best Challenge finish, better than her third placing here in 2008. Italy’s Olympic bronze medallist and 2004 Challenge champion Elisa Rigaudo (1:35:41) was third in her Mexican debut.
Spain’s Beatriz Pascual, Portugal’s 2005 World Championships Susana Feitor, Belaru’s Elena Ginko and Romania’s 2006 Challenge champion Claudia Stef were among the top finishers.
Ecuador’s Johana Ordoñez was the only non-European in this selective group.
Twenty-two year old Sanchez pleased the home crowd with his second consecutive win in Chihuahua after a 1:22:21-hour effort, half a minute faster than last year.
Colombia’s CAC Games champion Lopez (1:23:06) and Australia’s defending overall Challenge hampion and two-time 2008 Olympic medallist Jared Tallent (1:23:44) flanked him on the podium.
Walking at a slow pace on a cool and windy afternoon on the 2km ‘Pancho Villa’ flat course, Sanchez led over a dozen of men through halfway (42:25), before making his move in the second half.
Only Lopez and Tallent followed as he reached the 15km mark in 1:02:50, before the Mexican launched a decisive attack in the last two laps that found no answer from his toughest opponents. The young Sanchez covered the last 5km to secure his fourth Challenge victory, including two in Chihuahua.
“It was a very technical race. I was hoping for the competition to really start around the 15km mark, but it happened at the 13th. I am not in my best shape yet. I am training to be 100% fit for the World Championships in Berlin”, said Sanchez.
It was his second victory of the season after setting a CAC record over 5000m (18:40:11) in Sydney, on February 28, ahead of Tallent.
Sanchez left a good taste for the organizers and crowd, as the city will host the Race Walking World Cup in 2010, the first one in the country since 1993.
“We have a year to go and more countries and athletes are expected. Everyone aims to be on the podium and I will continue to work hard and take one race after the other,” said the 2008 World Cup bronze medallist.
Lopez, ninth in the Beijing Olympics, was happy to produce his first Challenge performance so far. It was his second podium finish in the history of the event, both in Mexico. He finished third two years ago.
One week after claiming his second consecutive national title, Tallent improved from ninth to third here, compared to 2008.
Norway’s Erik Tysse, third in 2008, was one place down this time, followed by Australia’s Adam Rutter and Mexican Olympian David Mejia. Another Aussie, 2007 Challenge champion Luke Adams, Mexico’s 1996 Olympic bronze medallist Bernardo Segura, Adrian Herrera and Ireland’s Robert Heffernan rounded out the top ten.
50km set for Sunday
Forty-four out of 52 men completed the distance, as well as 27 our 29 women. A record 196 athletes from 25 countries registered for the weekend events.
The first leg of the 2009 IAAF Race Walking Challenge concludes on Sunday (15) with the men’s 50m and the junior 10km races.
Mexico’s Jesús Sánchez will look to defend his 2008 victory against a field led by Spain’s 1993 World champion Jesús Ángel García who was a fourth place finisher here last year. Poland’s Grzegorz Sudol, ninth in the 2008 Olympics, Belarus’ Andrey Stepanchuk, Mexico’s 2000 Olympic 20km silver medallist Noé Hernández and two-time Olympian Mario Iván Flores will also battle for a top placing.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF
1. Eder Sanchez Mexico 1:22:21
2. Luis F. Lopez Colombia 1:23:06
3. Jared Tallent Australia 1:23:44
4. Erik Tysse Norway 1:23:56
5. Adam Rutter Australia 1:24:24
6. David Mejia Mexico 1:24:30
7. Luke Adams Australia 1:24:53
8. Bernardo Segura Mexico 1:25:00
9. Adrian Herrera Mexico 1:25:10
10. Robert Heffernan Ireland 1:25:32
1. Kjersti Plâtzer Norway 1:33:34
2. Inés Henriques Portugal 1:34:02
3. Elisa Rigaudo Italia 1:35:41
4. Beatriz Pascual, Spain 1:36:04
5. Susana Feitor Portugal 1:36:52
6. Elena Ginko Belarus 1:38:47
7. Johana Ordoñez Ecuador 1:38:53
8. Claudia Stef Romania 1:39:04
9. Tatyana Korotkova Russia 1:39:22
10. Tatyana Gudkova Russia 1:40:01
For more information, please go to www.walkingchihuahua.com/2009/