Zhang Yao after winning the boys' 10,000m race walk at the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Taicang, China

Preview: U20 men’s 10km race walk – IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018

Japan may have the three fastest U20 race walkers in the world this year, but the teenage trio will be making their major championships debut at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018.

More importantly, they’ll be up against three similarly matched Chinese race walkers, including world U18 champion Zhang Yao.

Before he won the world U18 title in 2017, Zhang won the Asian U20 title in 2016. But despite those major successes, he isn’t unbeatable. After winning in Nairobi last year, he was beaten twice on home soil by fellow Chinese U20 race walkers.

He appears to be back to his best, though, and clocked a big PB of 40:32 in Huangshan in March. He is joined on the Chinese team by Wang Zhaozhao, who has a PB of 40:42, and Sun Shuai, who set a PB of 40:41 last year. The formidable trio will have both individual and team honours on their minds when they take to the start line on Saturday afternoon.

But Japan also boasts three sub-41-minute race walkers. Hiroto Jusho – born on exactly the same day as Zhang – smashed his PB by more than two minutes to win the Japanese U20 title in 40:14, the fastest time in the world this year.

Takumi Suzuki finished second in that race in 40:21, while Sho Sakazaki clocked a PB of 40:30 in Wajima last month. Japan certainly has the strength to challenge for individual and team honours, provided the young talents can cope with all the pressure that comes with their first major international championship.

Ecuador’s David Hurtado has every reason to feel confident as he heads to Taicang. Following his disqualification at the 2016 World U20 Championships, he has been undefeated at 5km and 10km, both on the roads and on the track.

His streak has included victories at the South American Youth Championships, the Pan-American U20 Championships and the Pan-American Cup. He also set a South American U20 record of 39:41 last year, giving him the fastest PB of all the U20 entrants in Taicang.

Following an eighth-place finish at the World U18 Championships and a runner-up finish at the European Race Walking Cup last year, Mikita Kaliada has taken a big step up this year. The 17-year-old Belarusian clocked a PB of 40:39 last month, making him the fastest European in the field.

Spain’s European U20 silver medallist Jose Manuel Perez will also have high hopes in Taicang, as will Korea’s Kim Mingyu, Ethiopia’s African U20 champion Yohanis Algaw and Australian U20 champion Declan Tingay.

Mexico won team gold in Rome two years ago. They might struggle to retain that title in Taicang, but their leading entrant, 15-year-old Cesar Cordoba, appears to be a promising future prospect and will still be young enough to take part in the 2020 edition in Minsk.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF