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Cup hosts hope for renaissance in Mexican Race Walking – IAAF World Race Walking Cup

Jesus Sanchez on his way to victory in Chihuahua, Mexico (IAAF.org)Jesus Sanchez on his way to victory in Chihuahua, Mexico (IAAF.org) © Copyright
 Mexico hosts only its second IAAF World Race Walking Cup on the weekend of 15-16 May – and the president of the local organising committee in Chihuahua unashamedly hopes a pay-off from the $1million event is a walking renaissance for a country that’s mostly lost the winning habit.

As it happens, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, is also the organiser with the highest profile in the cup’s 49-year history, having won bronze in the IAAF World Championships 50k in 1997.

But it’s the future generation of Mexican walkers that Rodriguez hopes will get bitten by walking’s bug after the city has laid on a massive sporting and cultural festival to go with the Cup as well as a new sports stadium and seven new hotels.

Experienced organisers

Rodriguez already has experience of hosting walks in Chihuahua – the first of the IAAF Challenge Series enlivens the streets in the city centre each March.

But the size of the World Cup is a whole new ball game for the former international, as he already explained to his regular helpers in the Challenge.

He added: “When we began discussing this nearly four years ago, I told them, it has something of the same logistical needs – only four times bigger.”

A total workforce of 700 are slated for the whole weekend – with 400 helpers alone devoted to the World Cup.

The federal and state governments are largely footing the bill, and Rodriguez insists it will be money well spent if the likes of Eder Sanchez or the Mexican 50k team get on the podium.

Sanchez won the IAAF Challenge last year as well as third in the IAAF World Championships in Berlin. But the 23-year-old is the one home-grown talent in recent times to continue the tradition of Mexican medal collecting started at the 1968 Olympics when Jose Pedraza dramatically charged in to the stadium for silver.

As hosts, hoping to inspire next generation

In fact, for three decades it used to be a case of think walking – think Mexico.

But since Bernardo Segura was dramatically disqualified after crossing the line first at the 2000 Olympics, it’s been a spartan time for a country rich in the tradition of the heel-and-toe discipline.

Rodriguez has his own theories for the demise.

He said: “Walkers from all over the world used to come to Mexico for advice. But once they learned how we do it – they went away and did it for themselves.

“Also, since the golden age of the 70s, 80s, and 90s – youngsters have so many other distractions. It’s a hard sport if you want to do well and you have to be dedicated, and that’s often hard to find now.”

It’s also partly the reason for Mexico’s single World Cup success in women’s walks, according to Chihuahua’s LOC president.

Graciela Mendoza collected a bronze in San Jose, but that was 19 years ago, and Rodriguez is unsurprised lady luck has been hard to find since.

He said: “The girls are great up to 15 – and physically they’re well prepared. But after that they lack the mental strength to make more of their skills.

“And yes, they also discover boys and all the distractions I mentioned before.”

Home court advantage always a plus

But the hope that Mexicans will be at the sharp end all weekend in the May festival is not entirely wishful thinking.

Chihuahua lies 1400 metres above sea level, and in one example, Rodriguez predicts there will be nothing like the 78 or 79-minute clockings often logged by the best men in Europe for 20k.

He said: “It’s also one of the reasons I think Mexico has not had the World Cup more often. We had Monterey in 1993, but it’s often too hot in other parts of the country, and in Mexico City for example, the altitude is even higher.”

The average temperature is around 21 degrees celsius in May for northern Mexico, so there will be nothing like the steam bath other parts of the country have to endure. However, there’s also the factor of home support to consider.

Back at Monterey, Daniel Garcia became a local hero when he won the 20k, and Rodriguez points out they also have one of the best Mexican 50k walkers in Horacio Nava, who as a native of Chihuahua can expect frenzied support from hometown fans.

He added: “The early indications are there could be around 15,000 watching the races – if not more.

“A lot of people know about Mexico’s previous success at race walking, so having the best in the world come to your own doorstep is a big draw.”

Unlike the IAAF Challenge, the World Cup’s five races of two junior 10ks, men’s 50 and 20k, and a women’s 20k, will take place five kilometres out of the city centre at a new sports complex called Deportivo Sur (Sports South) on a 2k loop that’s ‘almost flat’, according to Rodriguez, where thoughtfully the LOC have planted trees along the course.

He said: “By May the trees will have grown so they offer shade to the walkers. And there were many reasons why we needed to move the races from the city centre.

“For a start, we don’t need to close the roads as we do for the Challenge – and there’s also a lot more room for the bigger numbers expected in the surrounding area. And of course, it gives us a chance to show off our brand new sporting complex.”

To get the show ready for curtain up, Rodriguez admits he’s putting in the hours along with his team, but is constantly fortified by his illustrious past and a dedicated team.

He said: “Being who I am has helped to open some doors – it’s true. And I’m glad I have the stamina from years of racing. Doing this is the next best thing to competing at the highest level – but sometimes I need all the energy I can get.”

Paul Warburton for the IAAF