After hosting the start of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in the northern city of Tijuana since 2003, Mexico will now host the first of the five-leg series in the high-altitude of Tlalnepantla de Baz, north of the Mexican capital, on Saturday and Sunday (25-26).
Perez 'ready' for fourth World Cup title
Ecuador’s two-time and reigning World champion Jefferson Perez, along with some of the top Chinese, Mexican and European athletes are ready to become the first leaders of the Challenge, which will culminate with the IAAF Race Walking World Cup in La Coruña, Spain, 13-14 May.
The 31-year-old from Cuenca, currently ranked third in the IAAF World Rankings, hopes to give 2005 Challenge winner Francisco Javier Fernandez of Spain a strong challenge for the first place in the overall standings, although his main aim is to claim a fourth World Cup title in La Coruña, after winning in 1997, 2002 and 2004.
“My goal is to win my fourth World Cup in La Coruña, and to lead Ecuador to a good place in the team competition, to perhaps improve our second from Naumburg 2004,” Pérez said in a recent interview with the IAAF website.
The 1996 Olympic gold medallist is back to Mexico after winning the first leg of the 2004 IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Tijuana.
Strong Mexican squad expected
As the host county, Mexico expects to excel in the men’s 20 and 50km, with fewer chances in the women’s 20km. The squad of young and experienced athletes is led by 19-year old Eder Sanchez, who finished eighth in the 2005 Helsinki World Championships.
“I am in good shape and we expect great results in the 20km. It will be very competitive with the Chinese, Europeans and other top walkers”, stated Sánchez.
The list also includes 1996 Olympic bronze medallist Bernardo Segura and 1997 World champion Daniel Garcia, as well as Christian Berdeja, Omar Segura and Álvaro García.
“Tlalnepantla will give me a new opportunity after being absent from the elite several years due to injuries,” said Daniel García.
The main local absentee will be Noé Hernández, the 2000 Olympic silver medallist in Sydney, who is not fully recovered from an injury in his left leg. Hernández was the fastest Mexican over 20km in 2005, when he clocked 1:18:51 in Cixi, China.
Tlalnepantla will serve as a qualifier to determine the Mexican squad for the World Cup and the Central American and Caribbean Games in Cartagena, Colombia, July 15-30.
China expected to mount strong challenge
China, which will host the third leg of the Challenge in Yangzhou, on 22 April, sent 13 competitors, who have been training in Mexico City since March 10 to adapt themselves to the high altitude.
The 20km team features Hongjon Zhu (1.17:41), Zhide Cui (1:17:53) and Hang Yucheng (1:18:31), the second, fourth and seventh fastest in the world last year, respectively.
Tunisia’s Athem Gouda, fifth in Helsinki, is also set to represent the African colours.
Stef leads women's competition
In the women’s race, the top names confirmed are Romania’s Claudia Stef, second in 2004 and third in 2005 in the overall standings of the Challenge, China’s 20-year old Yang Yawei (1:27:58), ranked ninth in the 2005 world lists, and Elena Ginko of Belarus, ninth in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Mexico will be represented by 40-year-old Graciela Mendoza, the 1993 World Cup silver medallist, Ariana Aquino, Aura Morales, Daisy González, Sandra Evaristo, Esther Sánchez and Fabiola Godínez.
The host country also has high hopes in the men's 50km race on Sunday. Omar Zepeda and Horacio Nava, who finished sixth and ninth, respectively in Helsinki, will take on the challenge of China’s Gadasu Alatan (3:40:23) and Tianfeng Si (3:42:55), as well as Victor Yinko of Belarus.
The local team also includes Miguel Solís, Claudio Vargas, Rogelio Sánchez y Jesús Sánchez.
Jesus Angel Garcia Bragado, the 1993 World champion and winner of the 50km race in the Tijuana leg of the 2003 Challenge, will be Spain’s sole representative in Tlalnepantla de Baz.
Francisco Javier Fernández and Juan Manuel Molina, second and third in Helsinki (20km), will not be present.
Mexico is the only country in the Challenge where the 50km is contested.
Most Mexican race walkers are from the state of Mexico, in the suburbs of Mexico City. They live and are used to training and competing on high altitude.
According to the latest reports from the organizing committee, nearly 100 athletes from 12 countries are expected to compete. The nations represented include Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, El Salvador, Belorus, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakstan, Tunisia and China. The race will be held in a 2km loop along the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Avenue.
The women’s 20km will start on Saturday at 7 am local time, followed by the men’s 20km two hours later. The 50km race will start Sunday 7 am, followed by the juniors 10km.
The winners of the three events will be awarded US$ 5000 each, with the prize purse distributed among the top eight in each race. The top 10 will earn points for the Challenge standings.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF