Hao Wang of China wins the men's 20km race in Chihuahua (Getty Images) © Copyright

World’s crème gathers in La Coruña – IAAF Race Walking Challenge PREVIEW

As part of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge 2010, the fourth and last leg of the IAAF Permit Race Walking meetings takes place on Saturday (19) in La Coruña, a city which has since 1987 annually hosted a world class ‘Gran Premio Cantones de Marcha’. ??

The events scheduled to be contested are 20km Race Walks for both men and women.  The northwest Spanish coastal city hosted a successful IAAF World Race Walking Cup  back in 2006 and offers the competitors an ideal, flat 1km-long circuit on which to get fast times while the spectators also benefit since they have the chance to witness a star-studded field establish plenty of fast times.

??Wang, Zhu, Tallent, Sánchez - Men’s 20km unveils formidable line-up??

The men’s event offers a vast array of talent in the guise of the Chinese pair of Hao Wang and Yafei Zhu, Australia’s Jarred Tallent and Mexico’s Eder Sánchez.
Wang and Zhu led the Chinese squad to an overwhelming team gold at last month’s IAAF World 20km World Cup held in Chihuahua largely thanks to the 1-2 spots they managed there. In Wang’s case, he became the first Chinese to win a men’s World Cup medal since 1995.

After his 1:22:35 victory in Chihuahua, the still 20-year-old ace had to settle for a lacklustre 12th place at the IAAF permit held in Krakow last 29 May with a 40:21 clocking over 10k. Wang is also the reigning World 20km silver medallist and holds an impressive 1:18:13 career best which he set last October when winning the National Games in Jinan. He should be eager to bounce back from his fourth place last year in La Coruña.

As for Tallent, the 25-year-old Aussie is the reigning double Olympic medallist as he grabbed bronze at the 20km before taking silver over the 50km event in Beijing.

Tallent’s current form includes a 50km World Cup bronze medal in Chihuahua and a 20km PB of 1:19:15 when winning the IAAF permit in Hobart last 13 February.

?2008 World Cup bronze medallist Eder Sánchez of Mexico should be another man in the hunt for the top places. The 24-year-old opened his appearances at this season’s IAAF Challenge with a 5th place in Rio Maior timed at 1:21:45 but he then had to be satisfied with his 7th spot in Chihuahua (1:23:56). Sánchez took soon a minor revenge in the Krakow 10k where he finished runner-up in 38:46.

?Other entrants include Japan’s Isamu Fujisawa (2010 PB of 1:20:12), Australia’s 6th placed at the Beijing Olympics Luke Adams, Colombia’s Luis Fernando López (5th at the World Cup in Chihuahua) and 2004 Olympic champion Ivano Brugnetti of Italy. Spanish hopes will rest on 2005 World bronze medallist Juan Molina Molina and the evergreen Jesús Ángel García Bragado. The reigning World 50km bronze medallist will turn 41 next October and is a former (1993) World 50km champion.??

Women’s 20km – A Portuguese matter???

The women’s line-up will be headed by the in-form Portuguese pair of Vera Santos and Ines Henriques, who took silver and bronze respectively at the World Cup in Chihuahua. Santos is the current leader of the IAAF Challenge thanks to her brilliant victories in Rio Maior (10 April, 1:29:16) and Sesto San Giovanni in 1:28:29 last 1 May. More recently, the 28-year-old Portuguese set a career best at the 3000m Walk on the track with a 12:17.59 clocking.

The main danger for the Portuguese tandem should come from the surprise World silver medallist in Berlin Ireland’s Olive Loughnane. The 34-year-old did not finish the event in Rio Maior and was disqualified in Sesto San Giovanni but she bounce back later with a fine 44:08 10km clocking for fifth in Krakow three weeks ago.

Watch out too for the fast-improving Chinese Liu Hong as the 23-year-old came 4th at the home Olympics in Beijing and then took bronze at the Berlin World Championships last year. After a disappointing 13th place in Chihuahua, Hong has proved to be in form by clocking 43:47 in Krakow for third.

In the absence of the local heroine María Vasco, the reigning World Cup winner, Spain’s strongest bets are the Hungarian-born Julia Takacs, author of a massive PB of 1:30:20 in Rio Maior for third and Beatriz Pascual, sixth on that occasion as well as at both the Beijing Olympics and the Berlin Worlds.

The course records are held by Spain’s ‘Paquillo’ Fernández thanks to a 1:17.52 clocking back in 2005, and Ryta Turava of Belarus, author of a 1:26.27 time when winning the World Cup in 2006.??Weather forecasters predict a temperature in the 18-21ºC range by the time of the competition and a very low rain likelihood.

??Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF