Rio Maior provided a great race walking journey on Saturday (7), as China's Qieyang Shenjie took her second win in the Portuguese city while young Spanish walker Diego Garcia pulled off a major surprise when he collected his first international victory.
Wind and rain provided adverse conditions in both 20km contests at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge fixture, but particularly for the women who started 12 minutes before the men.
The race soon turned into a battle between a group of six, two Portuguese walkers among them, including local heroine Inês Henriques.
But as they approached the midway point, Qieyang, the 2012 Olympic silver medallist, upped the pace to forge a lead which she later extended with each turn en route to a 1:28.04 victory, 12 seconds slower that her winning time on this course in 2016. She nonetheless won with a healthy 38-second margin over Italy's Antonella Palmisano, the 2017 world bronze medallist, who walked the final five kilometres alone. Up to that point, Henriques, the world champion and world record holder at 50km, tagged along with the two 20km specialists. She eventually finished third in 1:29:15, the third fastest performance of her career.
Portugal's Ana Cabecinha was next, just off the podium but also reaching the finish in under 1:30, clocking 1:29.53, to improve her season's best and show that she’s returning to form one month ahead of the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships in Taicang. Brasilian Erica de Sena, the Challenge leader prior to the race, dropped out after the 12th kilometre, unable to maintain contact with the leaders.
"This was a good race," Qieyang said. "I expected to win again in this competition, and I’m looking forward to the team championship in Taicang, where I intend to fight for the gold."
Henriques was also very pleased with her performance.
"At my my age, and with my goals focused on 50km, producing one of my best performances ever in the 20km leaves me really happy for upcoming events,” said Henriques, who is from Rio Maior.
"It’s my first time competing in my town as world champion and the crowd really pushed me,” she said, after thanking them for helping with their "love and support".
Garcia springs a surprise
The men's race was very competitive. A strong group stayed together through the first five kilometres, and in the tenth five remained in contention.
After 15 kilometres, Swede Perseus Karlstrom took the lead, upped the tempo and changed the dynamic. Looking for their moment, Spanish walkers Alvaro Martin, the winner in 2016, and Garcia, the 2014 world U20 silver medallist, then moved to the front before Garcia eventually pulled away to take the victory in 1:21:15.
“I’m very happy to take my first international win here in Portugal," Garcia, 22, said. "It was a great day, also because I achieved the standard for the European Championship.”
Garcia admitted he was wasn’t expecting to win, especially after his recent race in Castellon where he finished fourth more than two minutes slower than today. "But now, everything went well."
Martin was second in 1:22.00, just ahead of Mexican José Leyver Ojeda who clocked a 1:22:01 personal best for third.
The 2018 Challenge leader, Ecuador’s Andres Chocho, was fourth, ahead of another Mexican, José Luis Doctor.
António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF