China’s Ma Zhenxia is just 17 years old, but already she owns four major global titles.
Winner of the Youth Olympic title in 2014, the world U18 title in 2015 and the junior title at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Rome 2016, Ma added another gold medal to her collection by winning the women’s 10,000m race walk at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016.
Ma was always present in the lead pack. She took the field through the first 1000m in 4:39.27 before settling into a pack which also included Finland’s Taika Nummi, Ethiopia’s Yehualeye Beletew, Italy’s Noemi Stella and Japan’s Yukiho Mizoguchi.
Nummi upped the pace for the second kilometre, which was covered in 4:27.57, which led to Beletew picking up a couple of red cards before reaching the 3000m checkpoint.
Less than two seconds separated the top 12 women at 3000m, reached in 13:44.01, and the group increased in numbers as the pace dropped in the fourth kilometre.
Nummi, Belatew, Stella and Ma continued to share the lead for a few more laps, gradually increasing the pace. By 7000m, with Beletew leading the group through that checkpoint in 32:07.16, just six women were left in the lead pack with Mexico’s Valerie Ortuno and China’s Jiang Shanshan joining Beletew, Nummi, Ma and Stella.
Stella, Ma and Beletew then broke away and were three seconds ahead of the rest of the field at 8000m. It was clear that, barring a disaster, the medals would go to those three women.
With three laps to go, Ma and Stella began to forge ahead. Knowing that she already had two red cards to her name, Beletew played it safe and didn’t attempt to challenge the leaders.
Ma moved into the lead with two laps to go but Stella was still right behind. Ma still had another gear to move into for the last lap and she stretched away to win by six seconds in a world-U20-leading 45:18.45, having covered the final 1000m in 4:15. She became the first Chinese winner of this title since Liu Hong in 2006.
Stella crossed the line in a season’s best of 45:23.85, while Beletew took bronze with an African U20 record of 45:33.69. Ortuno was further behind in fourth, but also set a continental U20 record, crossing the line in 45:44.33.
Having finished fourth in Rome earlier this year, Noemi was delighted to make it on to the podium in Bydgoszcz.
“This is the biggest success of my career,” said the 2013 world U18 bronze medallist. “I did not expect this, but during the race I felt good and I just did the best I could.”
Just twelve months after compatriot Ayalnesh Dejene earned bronze at the IAAF World Youth Championships Cali 2015, Beletew doubled Ethiopia’s tally of global race walking medals.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF