Wang Zhen and Li Jianbo of China testing the London Olympic Race Walk course (Getty Images) © Copyright

Chinese expected to defend their turf in Taicang – IAAF Race Walking Challenge - Preview

The 2012 IAAF Race Walking Challenge moves to Taicang, China onFriday (30) and all the top athletes from the previous version in 2011, all Chinese, will be starting the 20km race this time, too.  In the race, which is traditionally a fast one, the home athletes especially will be looking for good positions before the London Olympics.

Men’s race - local young guns to square off

In the men’s race returning winner Wang Zhen, 20, will be a favourite this year, too. Despite his young age, Wang has already accomplished a lot and finished in fourth place in Daegu World Championships last year in his first major championships, just 16 seconds outside the bronze medal. Wang’s winning time of 1:18:30 here last year is his personal best, but during the 2011 campaign he also recorded good wins overseas in Lugano (1:18:37) and Dublin (1:19:46).

Also returning is the second placed athlete last year, Chu Yafei. The 23-year-old has competed in the last three major championships placing 10th in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics. Chu set a personal best 1:18:38 in Lugano for the second place and 1:18:45 in the Taicang race last season. Just 19-year-old Chen Ding was third last season here recording a 1:18:52 personal best. The 2008 World Junior Championships silver medallist has competed once this season in Huaian at the Olympics Trials finishing in third place there in 1:21:02.

There is a good chance that the fourth Chinese athlete in this race, Cai Zelin, might be the one crossing the finish line first. The 20-year-old from Yunnan province was eighth in Taicang last year in a 1:21:07 personal best result, but the 2012 season opened brightly for the youngster, who won the Olympic Trials in Huaian in February in a big personal best 1:19:42. Cai too is a silver medallist from 2010 World Junior Championships 10,000m track walk.

27-year-old Australian Jared Tallent also returns to Taicang, where he finished fourth place last year. Easily the most decorated athlete in the field having won two medala at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Tallent already has two races under his belt this season having won the National Championships in Hobart in February in 1:23:01 and placed second in Chihuahua at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in March clocking a 1:21:50 season’s best there.

Many of the other competitors are ones who competed here last year as well. Korean Kim Hyun-Sub was fifth in 2011 and has a personal best and national record 1:19:31 when winning the Asian Championships in Nomi, Japan, in March 2011. Also coming back are German Christopher Linke (seventh last year in 1:20:51 PB) and Russian Pyotr Trofimov, who took the ninth place last year. Trofimov has already walked a fast time 1:19:20 in February at the National Winter Championships, but then faded back to 15th place in the fast Lugano race couple of weeks ago clocking 1:22:12 there. Giorgio Rubino from Italy is also racing on Friday. The 25-year-old fourth at the 2009 and fifth at the 2007 World Championships.

Women’s race – Russia vs China

In the women’s race it’s a couple of the top Russians against the top Chinese. Liu Hong from Guangdong is the top pick for the win again. The 24-year-old is the silver medallist from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu and also placed third in Berlin two years earlier. Last season she equalled her personal best 1:27:17 winning this Taicang race, a time she had recorded at the 2008 Olympics, where she finished in fourth place just outside the medals.  Qieyang Shenjie is another Chinese athlete looking for the win. The 21-year-old has rapidly risen to the world top and set a personal best time 1:28:04 here last season. She also did well in Daegu where she was fifth in her first major championships.  

Last year Chinese took the first five spots in the race and although Li Yanfei, who was third here last year is not competing, Gao Ni and Lu Xiuzhi have made it back, the duo was fourth and fifth respectively in 2011. The 20-year-old Gao set a personal best 1:29:38 last season here and has already started well in 2012 clocking 1:30:21 season’s best time in Huaian. Just 18-year-old junior Lu Xiuzhi has a personal best 1:29:50 from September 2011 and has not raced yet this season.

The strongest competition to the Chinese will come from Russia, who have sent two very strong walkers to China. 31-year-old Tatyana Sibileva has already impressed this season having walked a 1:26:59 season’s best in Sochi in February before grabbing the win in Lugano in 1:28:03. Her personal best is even faster, 1:25:52 from 2010. Sibileva will be looking to add a second Olympics to her name this season; she finished in 11th place in Beijing 2008 and also was ninth at the 2007 World Championships. The second Russian is Tatyana Korotkova, 29. She also has a fast personal best of 1:27:35, but it dates back to 2004. This season she has walked 1:31:25 in Sochi.

The best non-Chinese in the 2011 race, German Melanie Seeger, also returns to Taicang in 2012. The 35-year-old veteran has competed in five World Championships and two Olympics, finishing fifth in the latter in 2004. She will be looking to qualify to the London Olympics through this race. In addition to these names mentioned, Australia has big teams for both men and women and just might have someone capable of a surprise there.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF