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Ines Henriques led a Portuguese sweep while Eder Sánchez prevailed in a close 20Km battle and Jose Ojeda took a surprising win in the 50km for the host country as the IAAF Race Walking Challenge resumed on Saturday (5) in this northern Mexican city.
Always among the top three in every race she has entered here, 2010 World Cup silver medallist Henriques savoured the taste of victory this time in Chihuahua after a 1:34:10 effort, followed by compatriots Vera Santos (1:35:17) and Susana Feitor (1:35:24).
Henriques took the lead from the start on the two-kilometre circuit along the Deportiva Sur Avenue. Australian champion Claire Tallent tried to follow her, but could not keep up with the pace after the eighth kilometre.
Tallent was overtaken by the 2010 World Cup runner-up Santos with five kilometres to go and by 2005 World Championships bronze medallist Feitor in the last lap.
“I love this place. I have always performed well in Chihuahua. My compatriots and I all had a good race. I finally managed to win here,” said a happy Henriques after her effort.
Rosalía Ortiz and María Guadalupe Sánchez followed the quartet in fifth and sixth places, respectively, earning selection to the Mexican team for the Pan American Race Walking Cup in Colombia later this month.
Men’s 20km -
Eder Sánchez and Luis Fernando López walked side by side right from the start. The former tried to break away, but the Colombian responded and it was down to the home stretch to determine the winner.
Sánchez crossed the line in 1:22:15, two seconds ahead of his archrival, to claim his third victory in Chihuahua after victories in 2008 and 2009. Their last five kilometres were the fastest: 19:39 for the Mexican and 19:42 for the South American.
The 2009 Berlin World Championships bronze medallist admitted that this was one his most had-fought victories.
“I don’t know where I found my strength to win. I gave it all in the last 100 metres. We don’t see races like this any more. Luis fought until the very end. We were pushed to our limits. I had a contraction in my trapezius muscle and it was bothering me, but I managed to recover. I am happy to give the victory to Mexico,” a joyful Sanchez stated.
They both repeated their positions from 2009 and are viewed as the top favourites for the Pan American Games title. “We hope to do well in Guadalajara," said the 2009 Challenge winner.
Olympian David Mejía improved his personal best by 11 seconds (1:22:36) and overtook two-time Olympic medallist Jared Tallent (1:23:25) to round out the podium positions. The 24-year old expects to join Sanchez at the World Championships in Daegu.
Australian Luke Adams finished fifth in 1:23:47, ahead of 23-year-old Mexican Diego Flores, who improved his personal best by more than 11 minutes (1:23:53) to finish sixth.
Surprise winner in the 50km
As expected, Mexicans earned the top honours in the 50km, but the relatively unknown name improved his personal best by nearly five minutes to beat hometown favourite and 2010 World Cup runner-up Horacio Nava.
Jose Leyver Ojeda and Nava shared the lead until the last two laps, when the former walked away and went on to win in 3:52:33, almost a minute faster than the 2010 World Cup’s winning time.
Nava settled for second with 3:54:18, closely followed by Edgar Hernández (3:55:49), who posted the second fastest time in his career, only slower than his bronze medal winning 3:46:12 at the World Championships in Edmonton ten years ago.
The top two will represent Mexico at the Pan American Games on home soil in Guadalajara October 13-30. Hernández will join the duo for the World Championships in Daegu.
For the winner, it was not a surprising victory as he believes it was based on his sacrifice and discipline throughout his preparation, under the guidance of his coach, 1984 Olympic champion Raul Gonzalez.
“I woke up today with the aim of finishing top three and trying to stay with the pace setter. This victory means a lot to me. It boosts my confidence as this was only my fifth 50km race. I realize I can go for the top positions,” said the 25-year old from Guanajuato.
“We have two main objectives this year: the World Championships and the Pan American Games (at home). Both are important and my coach believes and I am capable of facing the challenge,” he added.
Moving forward, Ojeda will do another high altitude training camp in Bolivia. “I am targeting 3:45 hours at the World Champs and also to improve my time at the Pan American Games.”
Runner-up Nava was satisfied with his performance. “My goal was to make the Mexican team for the Pan Ams. I achieved it and obviously I would have loved to win here, but I felt strange feelings towards the end and decided to walk safely to secure the second place.” Second at the 2007 continental Games in Rio de Janeiro, Nava hopes to bring the gold back to Mexico this time around.
The walking festival also featured a 10km race for junior between the 50km and the 20km. 2009 World Youth Championships silver medallist and 2010 Young Olympian Yaneli Caballero, 17, and 18-year old Christian de Jesús Gómez took the top honours with 47:38 and 42:49 minutes, respectively.
The other medallists will represent Mexico at the Pan American Race Walking Cup in Colombia March 26-27.
A total of 162 athletes from 14 countries participated in Chihuahua.
The 10-race IAAF Race Walking Challenge will feature two category C races this month: the Mario Albisetti Memorial in Lugano, Switzerland, on 20 March, and a 50km contest in Dudinska Paldesjatka, Slovakia, six days later.
The Challenge Final will be contested over 10km in La Coruña, Spain, on 17 September. Chihuahua is now looking forward to welcoming the world’s best walkers again in 2012. Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF
Men 20km 1. Eder Sánchez MEX 1:22:15 2. Luis F. López COL 1:22:17 3. David Mejía MEX 1:22:36 4. Jared Tallent AUS 1:23:25 5. Luke Adams AUS 1:23:47 6. Diego Flores MEX 1:23:53
Men 50km 1. José Leyver MEX 3:52:33 2. Horacio Nava MEX 3:54:38 3. Edgar Hernández MEX 3:55:49 4. Omar Zepeda MEX 3:59:13 5. Clemente García MEX 4:01:21 6. Christian Berdeja MEX 4:03:01
Women 20km 1. Inés Henriques POR 1:34:10 2. Vera Santos POR 1:35:17 3. Susan Feitor POR 1:35:24 4. Claire Tallent AUS 1:35:59 5. Rosalía Ortiz MEX 1:37:55 6. María G. Sánchez MEX 1:38:17
Junior Men 10km 1. Christian de Jesús Gómez MEX 42:49 2. Jesús Tadeo Vega MEX 42:52 3. Usiel Sánchez MEX 42:52
Junior Women 10km 1. Yaneli Caballero MEX 47:38 2. Sandra Nevárez MEX 49:14 3. María Iraís Mena MEX 50:01