Olympic champion Chen Ding failed to finish in a race won by Li Jianbo, while Olympic bronze medallist Qieyang Shenjie was comfortably beaten by Sun Huanhuan at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Taicang, China, on Friday morning (1).
The rain-soaked streets of the city made it difficult for the race walkers, and because of the water everywhere, the meeting didn’t witness the same kind of depth that last year’s edition had. Both the men’s and women’s 20km races were conducted together with the Chinese National Championships, resulting in large groups of athletes at the start of the race.
The men’s race started with the favourite, 2012 London Olympic champion Chen Ding, in the lead as expected. But the 20-year-old was not at the top of his game today and later dropped out. The overseas athletes, as usual in this race, were dropped by the lead group early and there were six Chinese race walkers competing for the win in the last kilometres.
The two most established race walkers, Li Jianbo and Cai Zelin, broke away from the four athletes racing in the National Championships and reached the long final straight side by side.
Most experts would have put their money on Cai, the 20km specialist who set his 1:18:47 PB here last year. But it was Li, the 50km specialist who was seventh in London in that event, who went on to win with a personal best of 1:18:52, breaking his previous best of 1:19:10 that was set back in 2009.
Cai finished just three seconds behind in 1:18:55, the second-fastest time of his career. The first six finishers were Chinese with the next four not competing in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
Third in the Challenge competition was Australia’s two-time Olympic silver medallist Jared Tallent in 1:20:41 in his third consecutive appearance in Taicang. Zhao Qi of China was fourth in 1:20:50 and India’s Kolothum Thodi Irfan clocked 1:20:59 in fifth place.
Breakthrough by Huanhuan to win women’s race
In the women’s race the early pace was not great, with this event probably being more affected by the weather than the men’s race as it started earlier. But 19-year-old Lu Xiuzhi – who last year finished sixth at the Olympics and set an Asian junior record of 1:27:01 – was an expected leader.
Around eight kilometres into the race, 22-year-old Sun Huanhuan accelerated considerably to take the lead. The Army athlete was competing in her first international competition, but seemed very decisive at this point.
Just before 10 kilometres, 2008 World junior bronze medallist Li Yanfei – who was competing in the National Championships race – took the lead, which she kept until the very final moments of the race. With less than one kilometre to go, Sun regained the lead and maintained it until the finish line, clocking a big personal best of 1:27:36 for the win and cutting more than two minutes off her previous best from last season.
Li, who was not part of the Challenge race, was second with a PB of 1:27:40, while 20-year-old He Qin, also in the National Championships race, finished third in 1:27:42.
Olympic bronze medallist and Asian record-holder Qieyang Shenjie never really looked like a potential winner of this race and finished third in the Challenge race with 1:28:27.
The best non-Chinese finisher in the race was Regan Lamble of Australia, who recorded a 1:34:03 finishing time for the seventh place.
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF
MEN – CHALLENGE RACE
1 Li Jianbo (CHN) 1:18:52
2 Cai Zelin (CHN) 1:18:55
3 Jared Tallent (AUS) 1:20:41
4 Zhao Qi (CHN) 1:20:50
5 Kolothum Thodi Irfan (IND) 1:20:59
6 Li Tianlei (CHN) 1:21:49
7 Takuya Yoshida (JPN) 1:22:13
8 Ivan Trotski (BLR) 1:23:29
9 Jakub Jelonek (POL) 1:23:49
10 Luke Adams (AUS) 1:24:07
1 Yu Wei (CHN) 1:19:07
2 Bian Fongda (CHN) 1:19:34
3 Liu Jianmin (CHN) 1:19:34
4 Sun Chenggang (CHN) 1:19:55
5 Li Shijia (CHN) 1:20:54
WOMEN – CHALLENGE RACE
1 Sun Huanhuan (CHN) 1:27:36
2 Lu Xiuzhe (CHN) 1:27:58
3 Qieyang Shenjie (CHN) 1:28:27
4 Ding Huiqin (CHN) 1:29:42
5 Yang Mingxia (CHN) 1:29:48
6 Gao Ni (CHN) 1:31:03
7 Regan Lamble (AUS) 1:34:03
8 Rachel Tallent (AUS) 1:34:53
9 Weon Aseas-Byeol (KOR) 1:35:47
10 Tomomi Maekawa (JPN) 1:37:55
1 Li Yanfei (CHN) 1:27:40
2 He Qin (CHN) 1:27:42
3 Nie Jingjing (CHN) 1:28:33
4 Wang Shanshan (CHN) 1:29:30
5 Bo Yanmin (CHN) 1:29:59