Colombia’s reigning world 20km walk champion Eider Arévalo will face a strong line-up at the ‘Gran Premio Cantones de La Coruña’, the Spanish leg of this year’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge, on Saturday (2).
The 25-year-old star arrived two weeks ago in Pontevedra, 130km from La Coruña, to finish his build-up for Saturday evening’s event. Arévalo already spent one month there last year before travelling to London when he took gold in a lifetime best of 1:18:53.
Yet the Colombian ace is still rounding into form this season. He opened with a promising 1:22:13 win in Dudince on 24 March but had a below par performance at the recent World Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018 where he had to settle for 12th place in 1:23:46. Arévalo has placed fourth on the two occasions he has competed in La Coruña (2014 and 2016) and should be eager to make the podium for the first time.
Spain’s Álvaro Martín took eighth in Taicang in 1:23:22 and should be the man to beat alongside Arévalo on Saturday. The 23-year-old Spaniard grabbed an emphatic victory last year in La Coruña thanks to a 1:19:57 performance, not far from his PB of 1:19:36. Martín then recorded a fine eighth place finish at the World Championships in London. This weekend’s will be his fourth 20km effort this campaign following a season’s best of 1:21:48 to lift the Spanish title in Castellón on 18 March, a runner-up place in Rio Maior (1:22:00) and the Taicang outing.
On the eve of the event, Martín commented: “I’m in very good shape, very similar to last year’s when I succeeded and look forward to competing on Spanish ground. It would be fantastic to win again this year although the presence of Arévalo, my Spanish mate Miguel Ángel López, Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom and the Asian contingent won’t make it an easy task.”
As for López, the 2015 world champion and current European gold medallist came 19th in Taicang (1:24:08) but holds a season’s best of 1:21:51 when he took second at the Spanish championships behind Martín. Another Spaniard in the medal quest will be Diego García, the current European U-23 champion who was 13th at the London worlds in a lifetime best of 1:20:34. The 22-year-old managed a commanding win in Rio Maior on 7 April (1:21:15) ahead of Martín.
The strong Japanese squad will be led by Fumitaka Oikawa, who lowered his PB to 1:19:17 last February in Kobe to take sixth at the National championships. He will be joined by 19-year-old Masatora Kawano, author of a 1:19:52 performance at the same event.
The usually powerful Chinese armada will be composed of Jin Xiangqian, a creditable sixth in Taicang and holder of a 1:19:12 PB, the 2015 world youth 10,000m champion Zhang Jun (1:21:10) and Bian Tongda (SB of 1:21:12).
Meanwhile, Karlstrom took second last year in La Coruña and holds a SB of 1:20:30 set in Adelaide but he opted for the 50km event in Taicang where he finished eighth in 3:48:54.
Shenjie the woman to beat
The women’s event offers an overwhelming favourite in the guise of the 2012 Olympic silver medallist Qieyang Shenjie. The 27-year-old is enjoying a very solid campaign having won the Rio Maior permit in 1:28:04 before taking third at the world team championships in Taicang where she clocked a season’s best of 1:27:06 while her lifetime best remains at 1:25:16 since the London Olympics.
Shenjie’s toughest enemy might be Erica de Sena who proved to be in fine form in Taicang where she placed fourth in 1:28:11. The 33-year-old Brazilian finished just out of the medals at last summer’s London worlds but she managed a lifetime best and Area record of 1:26:59 to take fourth. De Sena will try to be successful again after her victory here last year.
Another top-ten walker in Taicang will be in contention in the guise of Spain’s María Pérez, who took seventh in a personal best of 1:28:50. The 22-year-old also finished in the top-ten in London last year and should be in the podium hunt on Saturday. Watch out too for her compatriot Laura García Caro, ninth in London (1:29:29) just ahead Pérez.
Colombia’s Sandra Arenas, fifth at the London worlds in a 1:28:10 lifetime best, is also among the favourites. Although she couldn’t go beyond the 15th spot in Taicang the 24-year-old holds an SB of 1:28:48 to win in Dudince.
Portugal’s Ana Cabecinha will also be on show. The 33-year-old is consistent performer at major championships, having managed top-eight places over the past three Olympic Games, four World Championships and two European Championships. She will walk in the company of her fellow Portuguese Ines Henriques, the current world 50km champion. Despite moving up to the longer distance, the experienced 38-year-old Henriques boasts a SB of 1:29:15 for third in Rio Maior.
The course records belong to the Chinese pair of Wang Zhen, who clocked 1:18:00 in 2015, and Liu Hong, who set the current world record of 1:24:38 here three years ago.
The current leaders of this year’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge are Ecuador’s Andrés Chocho and Mexico’s María Guadalupe González with 25 and 24 points respectively.
Weather forecasters are predicting a cloudy day with a light breeze and temperatures in the 15-17C range at race time.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF