25-year-old old Han Yucheng was the biggest star of the Chinese National Walking Championships & Olympic Trials held last weekend (20-22 March) in Guangzhou’s Olympic Centre, venue for the 2001 National Games.
Han, who comes from Liaoning Province, the same area where most of China's best walkers hailed in the 1990s, only competed in a national level competition for the first time last April. During 2003 he went on to win the Asian Championships in Manila, but his progress after that has been fast.
On Saturday he won the 20km race walk in 1:19:30, a personal best, with 20-year-old Zhu Hongjun, who was the world leader in 20km before the World Championships last year, in second (1:20:10).
China's third 20km competitor in Athens Olympics will be Liu Yunfeng.
Asian 50km race walk record
On Monday morning Han returned to establish a real cracker of a performance over 50km. Han took 15:35 off his previous personal best, which was his debut over 50km on 14 April 2003, to become the first Chinese race walker to break the 3:40 barrier on the roads.
His 50km winning time of 3:39:10 is more than two minutes quicker than Zhao Yongsheng's earlier Chinese record of 3:41:20, which stood for almost nine years (30 April 1995), and was quicker than Kazakstan’s Sergey Korepanov’s Asian mark (3:39:22) set in 1999.
Xing Shucai and Yu Chaohong will be the two others joining Han in Athens for the 50km distance.
Women’s Olympic 20km trial
The women's Olympic trial race was all about Wang Liping. The Olympic champion gave birth to a baby in November and it looked impossible for her to regain the form needed to qualify so quickly, especially because China has so many top-class race walkers, but Wang proved everybody wrong.
Wang, who is married to 1997 National Games 50km race walk winner Zou Menghui, recorded a time of 1:28:58 for second place.
The race was won by Song Hongjuan, still only 19 years old, in 1:26:46, a clear world leader for this season. Song competed at last year's World Championships but her lack of experience showed when she was disqualified.
Song, from Jiangsu Province, bettered her earlier personal best (the world junior best of 1:27:16) from last season and is a step closer to competing with the best in Athens. Although she is young, to win the Chinese Championships by more than two minutes is a notable achievement.