left to right - Chinese race walkers Wang Hao and Chu Yafei, who finished in the top 10 in Beijing (Getty Images) © Copyright

Focus on the locals in Beijing – Preview - IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final - UPDATED

16 September 2010The 2010 IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final will be held in Beijing, in familiar surroundings from the 2008 Olympics. In the men’s race Chinese walkers are the favourites too, for taking the season finale's top prize.

NOTE: Updated 17-September 2010

Many of the world's finest race walkers will converge on the Chinese capital on Saturday (18) to race over 10Km, vying for a share of the $202,000 total prize purse on offer in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final. The male and female individual winners, provided that they have participated in at least three Challenge events during the year, are eligible for the $30,000 top prize. [Click here for Race Walking Challenge regulations].

Chu Yafei looking to clinch overall title on home turf – men’s race

Twenty two-year-old Chu Yafei will start as the favorite in the men's contest. Chu has raced three times over the 20km distance this season winning the La Coruña meeting with a 1:21:11 season’s best and also placed second at the World Cup in Chihuahua completing a Chinese 1-2 behind winner Wang Hao. Also competing well this season in the Challenge series and likely to make an impact are Matej Toth of Slovak Republic, who collected 30 points in the standings, followed closely behind Wang Hao and Colombian Luis López, who both have 28 points. Twenty one-year-old World Cup winner Wang is a favourite for this competition as well. Wang, who narrowly missed a medal at the 2008 Olympics finishing fourth, is the 2009 World Championships silver medallist from Berlin and recorded a convincing victory in Chihuahua.

27-year-old Toth was in good form during the early season with wins in Dudince over 20km (1:22:25) and taking the 50km World Cup win in 3:53:30, but then lost some of his momentum later on finishing only in seventh place in both the IAAF Challenge in Rio Maior and European Championships in Barcelona. Another big name looking for a win in this competition is Australian Jared Tallent, who has excellent memories from this site two years ago. The 25-year-old grabbed two silvers at the Olympics and has set a 1:19:15 personal best this season, the second fastest 20km of the year behind Alex Schwazer’s world leading Italian record 1:18:24. Also in the race is the fastest Chinese this season, just 17-year-old Wang Zhen, who set his personal best 1:20:42 in April placing third in Rio Maior.

Santos seeking biggest career victory – Women’s race

On the women’s side, Portugal's Vera Santos arrives as the Challenge leader who'll be looking to underscore her season-long success with a victory here. With the Russian walking stars absent from this competition, the seasoned 28-year-old Santos will be looking to score the biggest win of her career. The Portuguese walked her personal best 1:28:14 placing ninth at the Olympics in Beijing and started the 2010 season well, too, with wins in her first three competitions. She won two IAAF Race Walking Challenge competitions in Rio Maior (1:29:16) and in Sesto San Giovanni recording a season’s best 1:28:29 time there. Santos also didn’t reach the podium in Barcelona placing only sixth at the European Championships.

German Melanie Seeger, who trailed Santos by 10 points in the standing, will be looking to challenge. The 33-year-old from Potsdam was fourth in Barcelona and is still looking for her first podium finish in a major championship. In addition to the fourth place in Barcelona, she also placed fifth at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Another Portuguese, Inês Henriques, and Chinese Li Yanfei, could also play leading roles. Henriques has not won any major competitions, but was third in Chihuahua at the 2010 World Cup. Li was fifth in Chihuahua and although she won the 2009 East Asian Games, she too doesn’t have much experience at this level.

But there is another Chinese walker, who could be looking to win the race. Liu Hong won the bronze medal in Berlin last year and will be looking to be in good form for another reason as well. The 23-year-old is the reigning Asian Games champion having won in Doha 2006 and will be a big favourite to regain her title in Guangzhou later this year. Liu too has set her personal best here at the 2008 Olympics with a fast 1:27:17 for fourth place then. A few other walkers have a chance too with Russian Tatyana Sibileva and Australia Claire Tallent also in the race.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF