The Oceania Championships in Adelaide will once again launch the IAAF Race Walking Challenge for 2018.
Competition on Sunday 11 February will be fierce as Adelaide reverts to its normal hot and dry summer conditions after throwing up an exceptionally cool day for last year’s event. The extended outlook for next Sunday is for a maximum temperature of 34C after an overnight minimum of 19. Competitors will be hoping the 7am start ensures they will be competing in the coolest part of the day.
Olympic bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith will be chasing a fourth Oceanian title and a hat-trick in Adelaide, having won outright in 2014 (in Hobart, after first-across-the-line Jared Tallent suffered a rare disqualification), 2016 and again last year.
Bird-Smith can, of course, win the continental title without winning the race outright, but he will also be keen to score maximum challenge points in his home event to set himself up for a strong contender at the IAAF Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018 in May.
The 2017 challenge came to a natural climax at the IAAF World championships London 2017, where the combination of all events – men’s and women’s 20km and 50km – created a festival of race walking on the famous Pall Mall to open the last day of competition. This year’s final challenge event, the four-day Around Taihu International Race Walking, with stages of 20km, 10km, 10.5km and 10km, will be a true survival of the fittest.
The 2018 Race Walking Challenge will again visit four of the six IAAF areas. From Adelaide and Oceania, the series will move on to Monterrey in the North America, Central America and Caribbean area on 24-25 February where both 20km and 50km races will be contested at the Jerzy Hausleber Memorial.
After a six-week break it is over to Europe with Rio Maior, Portugal (20km), on 7 April before the World Race Walking Team Championships in Taicang on 5-6 May, which of course offers both race walk distances
Then it is back to Europe and the traditional venue of La Coruna in Spain on 2 June (20km) and a second visit to Asia for the finale at the Around Taihu event.
South American athletes took the top three places in the men’s challenge last year and top two in the women’s. With three events, including the team challenge in Asia and Oceania, the pendulum could swing to China and Australia in 2018.
Challenge contenders in 2018
The top five women in 2017 – Erica De Sena, Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez, Ines Henriques, Ana Cabecinha and Kimberley Garcia – are all in the running again. For Henriques, who won the first women’s world 50km title, breaking the world record she had already set earlier in the year, the World Race Walking Team Championships may be crucial to her chances. She is more than handy at the shorter event, too.
De Sena, the World Championships fourth-place finisher, took out the challenge last year with wins in Monterrey and La Coruna and a second in Ciudad Juarez. Second-placed Gonzalez beat the challenge winner in the latter race and added a second place at the World Championships.
World bronze medallist Antonella Palmisano had only two scoring events in the challenge, her win at the European Cup adding to her World Championships result.
On the men’s side, the gold and bronze medallists from the 20km in London – Eider Arevalo and Caio Bonfim – were the top two in the challenge standings. Andres Chocho took third place on the back of a second-place finish over 50km in Monterrey, a third over 20km in Ciudad Juarez and a fourth in Taicang. World 20km bronze medallist Lebogang Shange and Bird-Smith will also be prominent this year. Other consistent performers include Canada’s Evan Dunfee and Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom.
Bird-Smith to face tough international opposition in Adelaide
Bird-Smith will obviously start favourite in the men’s race in his home event. He looks untouchable for the Oceanian title, but the overall win might be more closely contested.
Many top race walkers base themselves in Australia during the southern hemisphere summer and there is a long list of internationals taking part. The question is: which ones are there for a hard hit-out, and which ones to race flat-out for the win?
Dunfee, the fourth-place finisher over 50km at the 2016 Olympics, warmed up for Adelaide by winning over 5000m in Canberra last weekend in 19:36.61. Two weeks prior to that, Karlstrom was a decisive winner over 10,000m in 39:22.41. Both will be racing in Adelaide and appear to be the best bet to challenge Bird-Smith.
Form in the past couple of Oceania races suggests New Zealand's Quentin Rew (third last year), Poland's Artur Brzozowski (fourth last year) and his compatriot Jakub Jelonek (10th) will give a good account of themselves. Lithuania's Marius Liukas was seventh in last year’s race and Chile's Yerko Araya eighth. They set PBs over 10,000m in that recent race in Canberra to finish third and fourth respectively behind Karlstrom and Dunfee and look poised to perform well in Adelaide.
Hometown hero Jared Tallent is not racing next Sunday, though he is still hoping to be right by the time the World Race Walking Team Championships come around.
Last year’s winner, Regan Lamble, had a mildly disappointing World Championships last year after finishing ninth in the 20km at the Olympics a year earlier. She will be favoured to win, with others expected to show well including Beki Smith and New Zealand’s Alana Barber.
The men’s and women’s races will also incorporate the Australian Championships which is part of the Australian selection process for the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships and, domestically, the Commonwealth Games (20km only) on the Gold Coast in April.
Len Johnson for the IAAF