There was a new Korean record by seven seconds for Hyunsub Kim in Nomi City, Japan, with victory in 1:19:24 at the Asian 20km Race Walking Championships, part of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge, on Sunday (16).
It’s clear that 29-year-old Kim likes the twisting, turning course at the city on Japan’s southern isle of Honshu, despite the windy conditions that were hardly conducive to fast times. It was in Nomi City that he set the previous Korean national record almost three years ago to the day.
Kim was surprisingly untroubled from the start.
A surprise because toeing the line was also Japan’s 2013 Asian 20km winner Yusuke Suzuki who 12 months ago, on an awful day weather-wise, bettered the Asian record to break the tape in 1:18:34.
He improved that again in Kobe on February 16 at the Japanese Championships by 17 seconds, but obviously decided two big efforts in a month was a step too far even for his undoubted talents.
This time it was plain from the gun that the Japanese champion was only interested in getting a decent workout to augment his current high mileage as part of his preparations for the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Taicang, China, in May.
Kim was 30 metres ahead after the first of 10, 2km laps and was never headed as Suzuki failed to challenge.
As far back as 2004, Kim was a bronze medallist in the IAAF World Junior Championships. Since then his times and finish places have fluctuated, if not exactly wildly, but certainly by a margin.
His last three major races have produced sixth and 10th at the last two the IAAF World Championships, and 17th in the London 2012 Olympic Games 20km.
The best time Kim could manage in 2013 was 1:21:22. This time he was on course to reproduce his 2011 Nomi mark from the first lap, and drew on growing confidence to get closer and closer to his own Korean record.
A final surge over the last 500 metres made sure that he knocked off the vital seconds to cross the line in 1:19:24, and herald a hope of finally having top three finish in a major championship.
Bird-Smith posts personal best
Australia’s Dane Bird-Smith, competing as a guest, moved up to track Suzuki and it was soon clear that the Australian’s previous best of 1:22:03 from the 2013 Challenge race in La Coruna, Spain was under threat.
In fact, the son of former national record holder and Olympian Dave Smith gritted his teeth and improved by a massive 62 seconds as he and Suzuki crossed the finishing line together in 1:21:01, with the verdict going to Bird-Smith.
It only served to underscore the form of the 21-year-old native Queenslander after he won the first Challenge race of the year back on home soil in Hobart on 2 February.
It seems at odds that from a nation of more than a billion people, India has yet to produce a world force in walking.
Gurmeet Singh is doing his best to rectify the anomaly. He was a walker labelled as lacking focus until he met coach Ramakrishnan Gandhi four years ago.
Singh then relocated to Bangalore, got married to another walker Deepmala Devi, and kick-started his career under Ghandi. He was the silver medallist at these Championships in 2012 and the bronze medallist 12 months ago.
Here at Nomi, he was officially third again in 1:21:30 and bettered his 2012 Nomi time by a single second. It was arguably the 28-year-old’s best performance because, like Kim, Singh was also isolated from the first few steps.
By contrast top the men's event, the women’s race was far from a procession although Chinese walker Tongmei Zhou finished nearly a minute clear of her nearest rival.
Zhou came through to win in 1:31:58, more than a minute outside her best but she is clearly in good form.
The second woman across the line, 37 seconds and more than 200m behind, was Japan’s Masumi Fuchise.
The Japanese set her best five years ago in Kobe, but was another getting a decent workout although nearly five minutes behind her best.
Fuchise was an open category entrant, so the official second place went fellow countrywoman Rei Inoue, who like Suzuki was making a second big push in a month after the 2014 Kobe race.
She too reaped the benefit of intensive training to record a new personal best 1:31:48 on February 16, but settled for a comfortable 1:32:56 this time around.
India's Khusbir Kaur went for broke and lead for five of the 10 laps before Zhou broke from the chasing group and caught the early pacemaker.
Although the Indian tired, her brave effort was rewarded with 1:33:37 and a new national record.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF