An array of World and Olympic medallists is set to start the IAAF Race Walking Challenge 2005 in this northern Mexican city, a six-event series that will reach its climax during the World Championships in Athletics to be held in Helsinki, 6-14 August 2005.
MEN – 20km
Italy's Ivano Brugnetti, Spain's Francisco Javier Fernández and Australia's Nathan Deakes, the 20km Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallists in Athens, want to test their form on the flat 2km loop course on the Paseo de los Heroes Avenue.
Brugnetti and Fernández have already competed here. The Italian, who also won the 1999 World 50km title, was third here over 20km last year, while Fernandez was second in 2003 and had to miss the 2004 event due to an injury.
Mexico has 47 of the 136 athletes from a 25 countries expected to compete this weekend. Olympic medallists Bernardo Segura (bronze in Atlanta'96) and Noé Hernández (Sydney 2000) lead the 20km national team, hoping to please the home crowd with a top three finish. Segura won in 2003 with the fastest time in the Tijuana course (1:19:06), but Alejandro Lopez´ fourth place was Mexico's best performer last year over the shorter distance.
Australia's Deakes arrives in Tijuana with the third fastest time so far this season, following a 1:19:23 win in a local race in Canberra, on 6 February, while some of the best Chinese race walkers also want to prove their fast times at the National Championships in Nanning were no fluke. Leading the quintet is Chaohong Yu, who won the Chinese title at the end of February with a season leading 1:19:15.
This time vaulted him into the third place of the IAAF World Ranking for the Race Walking category. Yu was second at the 2004 World Cup in Naumburg and fourth over 50km at the Athens Olympics.
Russia is represented by a large continent headed by 2000 Olympic bronze and two-time World Cup medallist Vladimir Andreyev in the 20km.
Mikel Odriozola, who won the 50km Spanish title in 3:41:27, and Santiago Perez, second in 3:48:12, will now contest the shorter event. Another top contender should be Germany's André Höhne, eighth in Athens.
WOMEN – 20km
The women's 20km race promises to as competitive as the men's race. Australian Jane Saville, the 2004 Olympic bronze medallist and the number one in the women’s Race Walking in the IAAF World Rankings, leads the field, but has never finished in the top three in Tijuana. The 30-year old from Sydney was fifth in 2003 and sixth in 2004.
Italy's Elisa Rigaudo is the defending champion in Tijuana and the overall winner of the 2004 Race Walking Challenge. The 24-year hopes to repeat her 2004 performance, when she won with the fastest time here (1:28:50).
Spain's 2000 Olympic bronze medallist Maria Vasco and Portugal's Susana Feitor, who accompanied her last year in the podium, are also registered, as well as Belarus´ Yelena Ginko and three fast Russians: Tatyana Korotkova (1:27:35) and Tatyana Sibileva (1:29:12) and Lyudmila Arkhipova (1:29:38).
Veteran Mexican Graciela Mendoza, Bolivia's South American champion Geovana Irusta and Ecuador's Miriam Ramon carry Latin America's best hopes.
MEN – 50km
Tijuana is the only one of the five stops of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge where the 50km will be contested.
This race also has an impressive field including China's Shucai Xing and Chenglian Zhao, who clocked 3:37:58 and 3:38:56, respectively, to finish second and third at the Chinese championships in Nanning.
Spain's Jesus Garcia, winner in Tijuana in 2003, hopes to improve his second place finish from last year, when he was beaten by Mexico's German Sanchez. Mexico's and 2002 Turin World Cup bronze medallist Alejandro López will also go for 50km.
Russia's best men are Ilya Markov, the 1996 Olympic runner-up and the 1999 World 20km champion, and Nikolay Matyukhin, who claimed the 50km World silver in Seville in 1999.
Germany counts on 2003 World Championships bronze medallist Andreas Erm, the fastest in the field with a personal best of 3:37:46.
Other top athletes are Poland's Roman Magdziarczyk, sixth in Athens, and Canada's Tim Barrett, who finished fifth last year.
The host country is led by last year's winner German Sanchez, followed by 1997 world champion Daniel Garcia, Omar Zepeda, 2004 Olympian Mario I. Flores, third last year, Rogelio Sanchez and Jesus Sanchez Tijuana, on the US-Mexico border, will be Mexico's trials for the World Championships in the Finnish capital.
Poland's Robert Korzeniowski, the greatest race walker of all times, will be missed on the Tijuana streets in 2005. Second in 2003 and 2004, the 36-year old officially put an end to his successful career after claiming his fourth Olympic crown in Athens. The Pole won the overall 2003 and 2004 IAAF Race Walking Challenge titles.
On Saturday, the women will be the first to compete at 13.00 local time, followed by the men's 20km two hours later. On Sunday, the 50km race is scheduled to start at 6.00am.
Prize money is available for the top eight in each race, including US$7000 for the winner.
2005 IAAF Race Walking Challenge
There is substantial prize money on offer for the Challenge, with US $30,000 awarded to overall winner, $20,000 for second place and $15,000 for third…, graduating down to $5000 for an eighth place finish.
The point system is also straightforward - 10 for the winner, 9 for second place, 8 for third etc…which makes the challenge easy to follow, with rankings based upon the addition of the three best results achieved by athletes in any of the competitions.
19 - 20 March:Grand Prix Internacional de Marcha Tijuana 2005, Tijuana (MEX)
2 April: 14th Grande Premio Internacional en Marcha Atletica, Rio Maior (POR)
23 April: Race Walking Grand Prix, Cixi City (CHN)
1 May: Coppa Città di Sesto San Giovanni, Sesto S. Giovanni (ITA)
4 June : Gran Premio Cantones de La Coruña, Spain
6 - 14 August: 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Helsinki, Finland
2004 IAAF Race Walking Challenge Standings
1. Elisa Rigaudo (ITA) 30 points
2. Claudia Stef (ROM) 26
3. Maria Vasco (ESP) 24
1. Robert Korzeniowski (POL) 28
2. Jefferson Pérez (ECU) 27
3. Ivano Brugnetti (ITA) 27