Wang Zhen collects a convincing victory in Erdos (Organisers) © Copyright
The races went almost as expected with Chinese men showing their strong position in the Race Walking world by grabbing the first four places and women winning the race with a third place as well.
The races were held in sunny weather, but cool with the temperature under 15 degrees Celsius. In the men’s race it was more or less Olympic bronze medallist Wang Zhen against Olympic champion Chen Ding and even though Chen was clearly stronger in London, the more experienced Wang was a bigger favourite to win here. Despite having only turned 21 in August after the Olympics, Wang had won the previous IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final in 2010 in Beijing with an Asian record 37:44, also the World Junior Best, and finished in fourth place at the 2011 World Championships before grabbing the bronze in London.
In this competition the Heilongjiang athlete, who also won the World Cup 20km in May 2012, didn’t want to leave things late and won his second Challenge Final in 39:27. The course was not fast enough for record breaking this time, but the distance to others says that Chinese men will be a dominant force, along with the Russians, for years to come. All of their top walkers in the 20km distance are 20 or 21 and have many years ahead of them. Second in today’s competition was another 21-year-old, Cai Zelin, who finished in 39:44, 17 seconds behind Wang. Cai finished in an impressive fourth place in London competing at his first major championships. Olympic champion Chen Ding could not answer to Wang this time and finished third in 39:51.
The Olympic bronze medallist in the 50km, Si Tianfeng, did not finish the race, but seventh in the London 50km, Li Jianbo, completed an impressive 1-2-3-4 finish for the hosts with a 39:56 personal best. Surprisingly the best non-Chinese athlete in the race was just 20-year-old Australian Dane Bird-Smith, who clocked 40:32 for fifth. The national 20km champion could well be the next Australian medallist in major championships after Jared Tallent, who finished well behind his younger countryman in 11th place today.
Liu Hong a comfortable winner in the women’s race
In the women’s race the picture was similar to the men’s race. 25-year-old Liu Hong, who has been the number one since her 2006 Asian Games win, fell victim to a too fast opening 10km in London and finished in a disappointing fourth place behind countrywoman Qieyang Shenjie. But in this competition Liu was again the biggest favourite and competing in a similar white cap as she did in London and usually does in every competition, was her usual self winning her first IAAF Race Walking Challenge in a comfortable 43:18. This was the first win in the women’s race to a non-Russian walker since the 10km distance was introduced in 2009. Liu had finished in second place twice in a row 2010 and 2011 after not taking part in 2009.
There were more surprises in women’s competition as the second favourite for the win, the Olympic bronze medallist from London, Qieyang Shenjie, was disqualified. Qieyang also came close to disqualification at the Olympics finishing the race with two warnings.
28-year-old Portuguese Ana Cabecinha recorded maybe the best achievement of her career with a second place finish in 43:31 keeping young Chinese Lu Xiuzhi behind her. Cabecinha has been quickly moving up in placings in this race having finished sixth in 2010 and fourth in 2011 with the best achievements in 20km coming in Daegu World Championships (7th) and London Olympics (8th). Just 18-year-old Lu is the brightest Chinese walking prospect behind Olympic duo Liu and Qieyang. She recorded a 43:37 personal best and world junior leader for third place here and did well in London too finishing in sixth place in the 20km distance at her first major championships. The Anhui walker, who has set the Asian junior record in 20km in 1:27:01 this season, has an awesome record in senior competitions having finished fourth at the World Cup, sixth at the Olympics and now third at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final in her first three major competitions.
Beatriz Pascual of Spain was fourth in 43:54 and Italy’s Beatriz Pascual fifth in 44:24.
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF