.Jesus Sanchez posted his best performance ever to win the 50km and complete a double win for Mexico in the first leg of the 2008 IAAF Race Walking Challenge in this northern border city.
The 31-year-old covered the 25-laps on the 2km Pancho Villa course along the Division del Norte Avenue here in 3:52:36, more than four minutes faster than his previous best of 3:57:08, set in 2007.
With the Olympic mark and a spot on the Mexican team for the 2008 World Race Walking Cup, Sanchez proved he is ready for higher goals as he walked away from Spain's 1993 World champion Jesus Angel Garcia (3:55:13) and 1997 20km World champion Daniel Garcia (4:00:59), who followed him past the finish line.
"It is a great personal satisfaction. It has been worthy walking almost four hours. Initially, I did not want to do the 50 as I was already qualified for the World Cup, but my coached convinced me during the high altitude training camp in Bolivia, as part of my preparation for the Olympics", commented a tired but happy winner.
Last year, he broke the four-hour barrier for the first time, but did not perform well in Osaka, where he finished 20th.
"I believe this result proves I am ready for bigger challenges, but I have to take things step by step. I am close to secure the qualification to Beijing and we have athletes to form a good team for Beijing", the 2000 NACAC Under 25 Championships silver medallist added.
Daniel Garcia confirmed his intentions to put an end to his successful career at the 2010 World Cup, to be held in Chihuahua.
It was his first 50km since 1999 and he finished close to the Olympic ‘A’ standard. "I sped up the pace in the last 10km and kept my motivation to finish among the top three". The 36-year-old from Veracruz hopes to be one of the top three Mexicans at the World Cup in Russia in May and break the four-hour barrier to qualify to Beijing.
Sanchez and 1996 Olympic 20km bronze medallist Bernardo Segura moved away from the pack early on the cool morning at 7:00am. However, the latter suffered from severe pain in a leg half way into the race and was forced to drop out. Unable to qualify to Beijing, the 37-year-old announced he is retiring from the sport.
Sanchez was left alone in the lead and maintained a steady pace to achieve the best performance of his career and prevent the experienced Spaniard from another win in Mexico.
The Mexican matched his compatriot Omar Zepeda, who won the 50km race of the IAAF Challenge in 2007.
Sanchez, Zepeda and Horacio Nava, who competed over 20km on Saturday, were already qualified in the Mexican team for the World Cup. Daniel Garcia and Mario Ivan Flores, fourth on Sunday, completed squad for Cheboksary.
As a coach of Spain's World and Olympic 20km silver medallist Francisco Javier Fernandez, Poland's race walking legend Robert Korzeniowski commended the organization of the Mexican event and he said he expects better times in this city, located 1,400m above sea level.
"It is been a great success and we had a good turn-out. The people in Chihuahua are proud of this event and that is good start for next year and the World Cup in 2010", said the 20km and 50km Olympic champion in Sydney 2000.
Sanchez joined his countryman Eder Sanchez and Norway's Kjersti Platzer as the first leaders of the 2008 Challenge. Chihuahua drew over 100 athletes from 21 countries.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF
The seven-event series will continue in Rio Maior, Portugal, on April 5.
1. Jesus Sanchez Mexico 3:52:36
2. Jesus Angel Garcia Spain 3:55:13
3. Daniel Garcia Mexico 4:00:59
4. Mario Ivan Flores Mexico 4:01:36
5. Edgar Hernandez Mexico 4:05:49
6. Marco Rodriguez El Salvador 4:06:01
7. Andrei Stepanchuk Belarus 4:09:14
8. Alvaro Nava Mexico 4:11:13
9. Miguel Solis Mexico 4:11:45
10. Jose Alfredo Perez Mexico 4:22:22
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