Inês Henriques on the way to her 2011 victory in Chihuahua (Chihuahua organisers) © Copyright

Tallent, Sanchez and Henriques the stars to watch in Chihuahua - Preview - IAAF Race Walking Challenge

Several of the world’s top race walkers will start their route to the IAAF World Race Walking Cup and the London Olympics this Saturday (3) on the streets of Chihuahua for the second leg of the 2012 IAAF World Race Walking Challenge.

As in 2011, the Australian husband and wife duo of Jared and Claire Tallent won the series opener last weekend during the national and Oceania championships in Hobart.

Double 2008 Olympic medallist and 2011 World 50km bronze medallist Tallent hopes to return to the podium in Chihuahua as he did in 2009. He finished fifth last year, always over the shorter distance.

Local favourite Eder Sanchez will defend his 20km title from last year, but he is expected to find strong opposition not only from Tallent, but also from Colombia’s 2011 Pan American Games runner-up James Rendon and Ecuador’s Rolando Saguipay. Several 50km specialists, including Russia’s Semen Lovkin, Ecuador’s Andrés Chocho and Chihuahua hero and 2010 World Cup silver medallist Horacio Nava will also race the shorter distance.

The 50km should be another battle between Norwegian Trond Nymark and local walkers, including 2011 winner and Pan American Games runner-up José Leyver, Omar Zepeda, Jesús Sánchez and Christian Berdeja. Andrei Stepanchuk of Belarus hopes to be in the mix as well.

Nymark, the 2009 World silver medallist, showed he has been working on his speed as he improved his personal best over 5000m to 19:52.62 indoors in Bergen, on 6 February.

Women's race

The women’s race could become another Portuguese affair as last year. A permanent contender in Chihuahua, Inês Henriques is back to defend her 2011 win, when she led an all-Portuguese podium.

She will be joined this time by 11-time World Championships participant and 2005 World bronze medallist Susana Feitor, who hopes to improve her third placing from 2011. Also registered, Russian Tatyana Korotkova could jeopardize the Portuguese intentions.

The races will be especially significant for the local athletes as the event serves as a qualifier for the IAAF Race Walking World Cup, scheduled May 12-13 in Saransk, Russia. The top five men and women in the 20km and the top four in the 50km will be selected.

Notable absentees from Latin America include 2011 Pan American Games champions Eric Barrondo and Jamy Franco of Guatemala, as well as Colombia’s 2011 World bronze medallist Luis Fernando Lopez, following the death of his coach Fernando Rozo.

A total of 167 athletes from 13 countries have registered for the Saturday event, vying for a $50,000 prize purse available for the top eight in the 20km and 50km. Starting at 8:00am, they will take on the two-kilometre circuit on the Deportiva Sur Avenue, at 1430m above sea level. Juniors will also walk over 10km.

Mexico’ one of the traditional powerhouses in Race Walking, hosted the first IAAF Race Walking Challenge race in Tijuana in March 2003. Tijuana organised the Challenge opener in 2003-2005. Subsequent host cities were Tlalnepantla de Baz (2006) and Naucalpan (2006-2007) in the outskirts of Mexico City, before Chihuahua took over in 2008.

The 12-leg IAAF Race Walking Challenge will wrap up with the Final on September 14 in Erdos, China. The Series’ top athletes will share an overall prize of over $200,000.

Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF