Chihuahua, MexicoMany of the world’s top race walkers will start their route to September's final in La Coruna on the streets of Chihuahua for the second leg of the 2011 IAAF Race Walking Challenge on Saturday (5).
Australian duo of husband Jarred and wife Claire Tallent respectively won the men’s and women’s 20km during the national championships in Hobart, which represented the first leg of the 2011 Challenge.
After staging the IAAF World Race Walking Cup last year, Chihuahua is now hosting 137 athletes from 13 countries, including 124 locals, who will take on the two-kilometre circuit on the Deportiva Sur Avenue in four distances 1430m above sea level: 10km for juniors, 20km and 50km.
Host country star Eder Sanchez, the 2009 World Championships bronze medallist, Colombia’s 2010 World Cup fifth placer Luis Fernando Lopez and Australia’s twice Olympic medallist Jared Tallent start as the favourites in the men’s 20km. They finished top three in this order at the 2009 Challenge race here.
Sanchez, the 2009 Challenge winner, is back form a high altitude training camp in Arica, Chile, where he improved his speed for Chihuahua, a Mexican qualifier for the Pan American Games to be held seven months later on home soil. Later in March, the 24-year old will make his 50km debut three weeks later in Slovakia.
“I am in a decisive year. I want to confirm my results earned with hard work. I have a lot of challenges ahead, including my 50km debut. With a good training and lots of discipline, I believe I can be among the world’s best,” he said.
“I will meet many of the top favourites for the Pan American Games. Chihuahua will be an opportunity to study my rivals and understand in which areas we should focus on in training,” he added.
Tallent already showed his good early season form with a 1:20:19 win at the National Championships in Hobart. He is familiar with the Chihuahua course as he finished third over 50km at the 2010 World Cup.
Joining the trio is 37-year-old Tunisian Hatem Ghoula. The 2007 World Championships bronze medallist is also in fine shape after breaking the African 5000m indoor record with 20:05.95 in Aubière on 19 February.
Mexican veteran 41-year old Bernardo Segura, the 1996 Olympic bronze medallist and the 20,000m world record holder is also competing. Segura won the first Challenge race in history in Tijuana, in March 2003.
In the women’s race, Portuguese Vera Santos and Inês Henriques arrive in Chihuahua with a lot of confidence as they finished second and third at the 2010 World Cup on the same course.
Henriques has been third in every race she has entered in the northern Mexican city since 2008. She hopes to get closer to the highest place on the podium this time around. Two weeks earlier, she won the national title in Batalha with 1:30:38.
The woman to beat is Tatyana Korotkova. The sole Russian representative here is the fastest in the field and posted the fourth fastest time this year (1:28:38) at the National Championships in Sochi, a race that last weekend witnessed Vera Sokolova’s World record of 1:25:08.**
The fastest and most decorated Portuguese female walker, 36-year old and 2005 World Susana Feitor, aims at her first podium performance in Mexico since 2004.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Claire Tallent will need to perform close to her personal best of 1:32:02 to achieve a top three position this weekend.
Close to her 48 years, 1991 World Cup runner-up Graciela Mendoza will make another appearance on home soil, hoping to make the Pan American Games team.
Forty seven men and 33 women have registered for the 20km. The women’s race will start at 2pm, followed by the men two hours later.
The men’s 50km will be the first race to be contested on Saturday at 8:00am. With only two foreign athletes registered among 21 entrants, the longest race is expected to be a Mexican festival as the local athletes vie for the only two slots available for the Pan American Games team.
Chihuahua idol Horacio Nava aims at the first Challenge victory in his career after claiming silver at the 2010 World Cup in hometown.
The 29-year old completed a successful high altitude training camp in Creel, in the Sierra Madre mountains, 2400m above sea level.
Jesus Sánchez and Omar Zepeda, second at third at the 2009 Challenge race in Chihuahua, will be also aiming to repeat their podium performances, as well as 2008 Olympian Mario Ivan Flores and 2000 World junior champion Cristian Berdeja, who finished seventh at the 2010 World Cup.
The only non-Mexicans registered are Sweden’s Andreas Gustafsson and Belarus’ Vitali Talankou.
Between the 20km and 50km races, the juniors will battle over 10km at 9:00am (women), and 10:15 (men).
Mexico’ one of the traditional powerhouses in Race Walking, hosted the first IAAF Race Walking Challenge race in Tijuana in March 2003. Tijuana organised the Challenge opener in 2003-2005. Subsequent host cities were Tlalnepantla de Baz (2006) and Naucalpan (2006-2007) in the outskirts of Mexico City, before Chihuahua took over in 2008.
Organisers are serious in keeping the city on the world athletics map as they aim to bid for the 2014 World Half Marathon Championships.
All races will be broadcast live at http://tv.atletismofma.com.mx/
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF
**World record pending usual ratification procedures