Chinese walkers claimed a sweep of the podium in the men’s race and first and third places in the women’s race at the 9th Memorial Mario Albisetti, a European Athletics Race Walking Permit meeting valid for points in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge. The event took place in the picturesque Swiss town on the banks of the Lugano Lake in the Italian-speaking region of Canton Ticino.
Twenty-year-old Zhen Wang took the men’s honours in a sensational PB of 1:18:36 improving his previous PB by two minutes beating Yafei Zhu by one second and Ding Chen (1:19:38). Tunisia’s Hassanine Sebei produced a major surprise by finishing fourth in 1:20:19. The top-four walkers all set their PBs. Robert Heffernan from Ireland, fourth at the European Championships in both the 20 and 50 km in Barcelona, finished as the first European in fifth place in 1:20:53.
Liu Hong, 2006 World Junior champion and bronze medallist at the Berlin World Championships in 2009, completed the great day for Chinese walkers by taking the win in the women’s 20km race in 1:29:28 beating Russian 1:25:52 walker Tatiana Sibileva by 1:08. Ni Gao from China finished third in 1:30:45.
The Chinese triumph was a reason of pride for Italian walking guru Sandro Damilano who is now working for the Chinese Athletics Federation. A successful coaching career has seen his pupils collect 46 Olympic, World and European medals, and Damilano is now guiding Chinese race walkers at the Italian Race Walking School in Saluzzo.
Zhen Wang led from the beginning of the race and made a gun-to-tape race. The young Chinese, born in 1991, led a big group which also featured among the others Yafei Zhu, Russian Petr Trofimov, Ding Chen and Robert Heffernan who passed the 4km in 16:17 and the 6km in 28:04.
At 8km Zhen Wang and Yafei Zhen broke away from the rest of the field. They went through the 10km mark in 39:45 with a gap of 16 seconds on the chasing pack which featured Hassanine Sebei and Chen Ding.
Zhen Wang and Yafei Zhen walked side by side until the closing stages of the race which was decided by a final sprint in which the former prevailed by just one second.
Zhen Wang came very close to the course record set last year by 50km Olympic champion Alex Schwazer, who set the Italian record with 1:18:24.
Tatyana Sibileva walked in the front reaching the 5km in 22:41 with a gap of nine seconds over Hong Liu. Sibileva remained in the lead until the 12km when she led by six seconds over Hong Liu (53:50 to 53:56).
Hong Liu caught up with Sibileva at 13km and from the 14km she overtook the Russian walker carving out a gap of 7 seconds (1:02:44 to 1:02:51) which she continued to increase in the following kilometres (36 seconds at 18 km and 48 sec. at 19 km). Hong Liu’s gap grew to more than one minute in the final km.
Hong Liu crossed the finish-line in 1.29:28 setting the new course record which was previously held by reigning Commonwealth Games champion Joanna Jackson from Great Britain (1:31.16 in 2009)
“The Chinese walkers showed their strength. It was not easy to walk so fast on this course. When I chose to train Zhen Wang two years ago, he was not considered among the best walkers in China but he has made big progress. The Chinese walkers have improved much in their technique and are closing their gap on the Russian team”, said Sandro Damilano.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
Results from the Memorial Mario Albisetti Walking Race in Lugano:
1 Zhen Wang (China) 1:18:36
2 Yafei Zhu (China) 1:18:37
3 Ding Chen (China) 1:19:38
4 Hassanine Sebei (Tunisia) 1:20:19
5 Robert Heffernan (Ireland) 1:20:53
6 Nazar Kovalenko (Ukraine) 1:21:33
7 Petr Trofimov (Russia) 1:21:47
8 Bertrand Moulinet (France) 1:21:49
1 Hong Liu (China) 1:29:28
2 Tatiana Sibileva (Russia) 1:30:36
3 Ni Gao (China) 1:30:45
4 Ana Cabecinha (Portugal) 1:31:07
5 Zuzana Shindlerova (Czech Republic) 1:32:10
6 Yanfei Li (China) 1.32:59
7 Irina Umanova (Russia) 1:33:08
8 Lingling Tong (China) 1.33:13