Spain's Jesús Angel García won the 50 km race yesterday (Sunday March 9) on the final day at the inaugural event of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
Garcia, silver medallist in the 2001 Edmonton World Championships, crossed the finish line after a 3:46:46-hour effort and defeated New Zealand's Craig Barrett (3:51:15) and Mexico's Germán Sánchez (4:04:11).
The 33-year old from Madrid secured the victory after the 36km mark when Mexico's Omar Zepeda, who had a warning, stopped thinking he had received a red card that had never been shown.
Other top local contenders, World Championships bronze medallists Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Athens'97) and Edgar Hernández (Edmonton'2001), dropped out after the 34th and the 42nd kilometres, respectively.
After nearly 50 athletes departed from Zona Rio for the 25-lap race over a 2km course along Paseo de los Heroes, Ecuador's Javier Malacatus, who arrived in Tijuana just a few hours before the start, took an early lead of up to 10 seconds, in the first 10 kilometres.
He was caught two kilometres later by the pack and eventually dropped out. It was Barrett who took the initiative but was always controlled by the Mexican trio of German Sánchez, Omar Zepeda and Fernando Guerrero, as well as García.
After the 14.5 km mark, Zepeda increased the pace and found himself with a 1:30 minute lead over the Spaniard in the 36th kilometre, but he surprisingly abandoned the race, alleging a disqualification he never received.
From that point on, Garcia kept up his pace and even lapped the eventual third place finisher Germán Sánchez, 42.5km into the race.
It was then only a matter of time. With over a four minutes lead on his closest rival, the Kiwi Barrett, Garcia was given a Mexican flag in the finish straight and carried it to the tape.
“I did not expect this win. I had the national champs three weeks ago and I did not know how my legs would react in Tijuana. All I did was rest well and the excellent warmth was the key to my performance,” said Garcia, who won the World title in Stuttgart at the age of 23, and was second in Monterrey at the IAAF Race Walking World Cup a decade ago.
Asked about Zepeda, the winner expressed his sympathy and encouraged him to “stay strong and remember that this is not the end,” in clear reference to his own disqualification six kilometres from the finish in the 2002 IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Turin.
Garcia’s winning time (3:36:36) was almost three minutes slower than the best time ever produced on Mexican soil (3:43:52), clocked by Miguel Angel Rodríguez in 2000.
Only 16 of the nearly 50 athletes who started the event completed the 25 laps. Six men - four Mexicans and two Americans - were disqualified and Sweden’s Bo Gustafsson, silver medallist in the 1984 LA Olympics, dropped out after the first 10km.
The IAAF Race Walking Challenge now moves to Europe in Rio Major, Portugal, on April 5, for the second leg of the six-event series, which will culminate at the 9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Paris, this August.
There is substantial prize money on offer for the six event IAAF Race Walking Challenge, with US $30,000 awarded to first place, $20,000 for second place and $15,000 for third…, graduating down to $5,000 for an eighth place finish.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF