selects walkers for Sydney 2000
By Juan Ramon Pina
9 April 2000 - Poza Rica, Mexico In a particularly difficult event, Mexico selected its three representatives for the 50km walk in Sydney 2000.
In a discipline which requires physical and psychological maturity, veterans Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, Joel Sánchez and Germán Sánchez defeated the new generation.
The three athletes, all of whom participated in both Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996 offered emotion and drama in the event which took place on a circuit in the centre of this little town in the state of Veracruz and in front of some 5,000 spectators.
The race, which was part of the 9th edition of the Pan-American Walking Cup, was attended by 38 competitors representing 12 countries.
The race took place under favourable weather conditions: cool and cloudy in the morning accompanied by light rain; and these conditions enabled athletes to complete the 50km course in a Mexican all-comers record time.
Rodriguez, 32, coming from Chihuahua, clocked 3:43.51 which was also a new record of the Pan-American Cup, bettering the previous best performance of his compatriot Martin Bermudez (3:51.02), which had stood since Xalapa 1990.
Joel Sánchez finished second with 3h47.57; German Sánchez third with 3h48.05 and Carlos Mercenario fourth with 3h50.27.
The Mexican Athletic Federation had set a standard of 3:54.00 for Sydney 2000, bearing in mind the weather conditions that characterise the city of Poza Rica.
Canadas Arturo Huerta finished fifth with 3h56.01 and Mexicos Edgar Hernandez was sixth with 3h56.45 in what was his first participation over the distance.
Mexicos Joel Sánchez set the pace right from the start of the race, which became even more dramatic as the kilometres passed. Joel kept the lead for 25 kilometres before being caught by Rodriguez. The two went on to the finish in an exciting duel, which saw Joel leaving the lead to Rodriguez.
From a group left behind, German who was returning to competition after a two year ban for doping, increased progressively his speed to finish third, a place which ensured him of a ticket for Sydney.
Mercenario, bronze medallist in Barcelona 92, was also aiming at a qualification for Sydney but was forced to abandon hope tired by the distance.
In the first part of the race some new talents had tried their chance but very soon they were overcome by the experience of Rodriguez, Joel, German and Mercenario. It was clear that the 50km race requires more than talent and commitment: experience and maturity.
And this is what happened to Daniel Garcia who, already qualified for the 20km walk for having finished third in Sevilla 99, tried his chance in the 50km. He was forced to abandon around kilometre 35.
The Pan-American Cup was won by the Mexico A team, followed by the United States and Cuba.
Hernandez and Segura complete the team for the 20km
By winning the Pan-American Walking Cup, Mexicos Noé Hernandez and Bernardo Segura completed the Mexican trio who will compete in the 20km walk in Sydney 2000.
Since the beginning, Hernandez a native of Mexicos Chimalhuacan and Segura, from San Mateo Atenco, led a race in which 62 athletes from 12 countries took part.
The race started at 9.30am on a cloudy and humid morning on a central and flat course of 2 kilometres. It was attended by 6,000 spectators.
Hernandez and Segura set the pace of the leading group, which left other competitors far behind in the early stages. With 4 kilometres to go, the pair was maintaining a high pace to catch the 2 Olympic spots remaining, with Jorge Segura, Bernardos brother, Alejandro Lopez and Christian Berdeja close behind.
Along the way important competitors such as 1996 Olympic Champion Jefferson Perez (ECU) and Julio Martinez (GUA) World leader in 1999, had already lost ground.
With one lap to go, the Olympic team seemed decided with Hernandez and the elder Segura in the lead. But with Bernardo already warned twice and Hernandez once, the two decided not to tempt the judges and did not sprint for the finish line, which they reached together in celebration.
They both clocked 1:22.47 with Segura slightly ahead of Hernandez. Christian Berdejo finished third with a time of 1:23.46, Olympic Champion Perez was fourth with 1:24.36, Alejandro Lopez fifth (1:24.43) and Claudio Vargas (MEX) sixth with 1:25.18.
Jorge Segura looked set to take third place but was disqualified a few meters from the finish line while Juan Jose Sanchez was eighth but was also disqualified.
Mexicos Guadalupe Sanchez coming from Atizapan de Zaragoza, won the womens race with great determination, defeating her most serious rival Mara Ibanez, from Veracruz.
The women needed to clock 1:31.02 in order to automatically qualify for Sydney, but the weather conditions were not on their side. They will therefore need to try and gain their Olympic ticket in a forthcoming European competition.
Sanchez clocked 1:34.39 to win the race with no warning while Ibanez clocked 1:34.52 with two warnings. Graciela Mendoza, from Michoacan, finished third with 1h35.8.
Mendoza had remained in the second group before increasing her pace and fighting for second place. After the warning of the judges and still suffering from a minor injury from a few weeks before, she decided to slow down and finish the race, her target to qualify for the Olympics being to finish in the top three positions. Mendoza had already matched the qualifying standards for Sydney in the 1999 World Cup where she clocked 1:30.02.