Australia’s Jared Tallent and Norway’s Kjersti Plätzer will begin their title defense at the opening stop of the 2009 IAAF Race Walking Challenge in this northern Mexican city.
Organizers of the “Encuentro Internacional de Marcha Chihuahua 2009” confirmed the initial registration of athletes from a record 25 countries to vie for the top honours in the men’s 20km and 50km and women’s 20km on the “Pancho Villa” course.
Traditional hosts of the first stop of the Challenge since its first edition in 2003, Mexico has chosen Chihuahua as the new venue since 2008 as this northern city is slated to host the IAAF Race Walking World Cup in 2010.
Plätzer, a 37-year-old mother, won in Chihuahua in 2008, a surprising victory - she described - that paved the way for her best season ever, including her second Olympic medal, a personal best of 1:27:07 and the Challenge trophy.
Other top names already confirmed are Italy’s 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Elisa Rigaudo and Spain’s Beatriz Pascual, who finished sixth in the Chinese capital.
In the men’s race, Olympic double medallist Jared Tallent will start his title defense facing a strong field including his compatriot and 2007 Challenge champion Luke Adams, Tunisia’s 2007 World Championships bronze medallist Hatem Goula, 2008 Chihuahua winner and local favorite Éder Sánchez, as well as well as Irish Robert Hefferman, who finished eighth in Beijing.
Twenty-year-old Tallent finished a distant ninth in Chihuahua but went on to clinch two Olympic medals: silver in the 50km bronze in the 20km.
In 2009, he has made three outings on the track at three local meetings, including his 5000m area record of 18:41.83, set last Saturday in Sydney.
The men’s 50km features Spain’s Jesús Ángel García and Norway’s Erick Tysse, who finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in Beijing.
Chihuahua-born Horacio Nava, sixth in the Chinese capital, will opt for the 20km.
García, 39, arrived here over a week ago to get used to the course and the weather, hoping to his improve his second place performance from last year.
“I came better prepared and I hope to perform better than last year. I believe the new modifications to the course will help us to achieve faster times. If we can walk around 3:50, considering the altitude and the fact that is the start of the season, it is a good result,” said García, who became the first international athlete to arrive for the Challenge.
The 1993 World champion won the 50km in Tijuana 2003 and has always been on the 50km podium in the Mexican leg of the Challenge. He missed the 2007 edition and finished second in Chihuahua last year.
Other athletes from Peru, Slovakia, Ecuador, Colombia, Italy, Russia, Belarus, Portugal, Ghana, Lithuania, Hungary, Chile and Sweden are also registered.
For this year’s Challenge athletes can earn points in some other competitions than the eight race IAAF Race Walking Challenge events.
The 2009 Challenge Final will be held in Saransk, Russia, on September 19, one month after the IAAF World Championships in Berlin, August 15-23.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF