Ines Henriques (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview London, UK

Preview: women's 50km race walk – IAAF World Championships London 2017

The IAAF steps into unchartered waters when seven female race walkers contest the first women’s World Championships 50km race walk along The Mall on 13 August.

In fact, the inaugural medals will go to three from just four countries, with Portugal’s Inês Henriques clear favourite after setting an initial world record 4:08:26 at Porto de Mós in January.

The experienced 37-year-old has yet to better third at the 2010 IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Chihuahua when it comes to individual honours, and was in tears after being disqualified at the European Race Walking Cup in May over 20km.

That miserable moment should turn to smiles in London’s capital, because this is by far her best chance to break that duck as well as race into the history books and collect the cash prize bestowed on a winner.

At the longer distance, Henriques has nearly 14 minutes over the next ranked competitor which happens to be a Yin, Hang in this case, and of course, there is a Yang to compliment her, Shuqing is her given first name.

Both Chinese race walkers dipped their toes into those untested waters at Huangshan’s Grand Prix in March to record 4:22:22 for Yin and 4:27:24 for Yang.

Honoured though these three – along with the USA’s Erin Talcott, Kathleen Burnett and Susan Randall and Nair da Rosa of Brazil – are, the IAAF has made it plain they want a tough race and stipulated a demanding 4:30:00 qualifying mark, with da Rosa and Randall gaining entry as respective area champions. Hence the thin entry list.

In addition, if all seven entrants make it to the finishing line, it’s because they started the last two-kilometre lap before the clock ticks past 4:17:00.

In fact, a lot depends on the seven and the next wave of interest wanting to try 50km.

IAAF President Sebastian Coe has warned: “To ensure the long-term credibility of the World Championships, we will follow the recommendation of the Race Walking Committee and assess the development of the event to determine whether there are sufficient numbers of athletes and countries legitimately interested.”

There was a distant time when women would collapse when faced with the strenuous demands of an 800m run – or so it was believed.

The so-called weaker sex has proved time and time again over 90 years they have as much staying power as men.

And to put Henriques’s record into perspective, it would have broken the men’s world best time up to 1955.

The IAAF has done its part for gender equality by matching the men’s race walks; it’s now time for seven to become a lot more by the time Doha looms in to view come 2019.

Paul Warburton for the IAAF