Zhen Wang of China celebrates winning the 20km at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Saransk (Getty Images) © Copyright

Host Chinese looking strong in Erdos – PREVIEW – IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final

The 2012 IAAF Race Walking Challenge comes to an end in Inner Mongolia, China, in the city of Erdos on Friday (14). The host country has been strong in race walking for a long while, but the final breakthrough to the world elite has happened quite recently.

China grabbed four medals from the London Olympics accompanied by two fourth places and was the best country in race walking events. Russia did win two golds, but only three medals and two fifth places. The performance of the nine Chinese athletes was also one of a kind as eight of them finished in the top seven. Naturally all of these eight athletes will be competing in Erdos and all of them are also eligible in the race for the final prize money.

Wang Zhen leads the men’s field

In the men’s race the two London medallists from the 20km race will be the top favourites for the 10km win in the final. 21-year-old Wang Zhen won the final two years ago in Beijing clocking a 37:44 Asian record and world junior best at the age of 19 and then finished in second place in La Coruña last year behind Russian Valeriy Borchin. The 26-year-old is not competing this time, so the biggest threat to Wang comes from the Olympic champion Chen Ding, who also holds the world youth best 39:47.20 in the 10,000m track walk. Chen’s personal best is 38:23 from the same Beijing race in 2010 (age 18) and it would be a surprise should anyone challenge this duo for the win.

Maybe the next bet should go to another Chinese, Cai Zelin, who finished fourth in the London 20km. The other two host country athletes in the race are Li Jianbo, seventh in the London 50km and the winner of the La Coruña IAAF Race Walking Challenge 20km this season; and Si Tianfeng, who grabbed the bronze in the London 50km race.

The best competition comes from Mexican Éder Sánchez and Australian Jared Tallent. The 26-year-old Mexican finished in sixth place in the London 20km and has competed in the last three editions of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final finishing in third place in 2009. Tallent was seventh in London in 20km and then grabbed his second straight Olympic silver medal in the 50km distance. The Australian has also competed in the last three finals, but only has two eighth places from 2009 and 2010. Both athletes are eligible for the prize money in the final.

Outside threat to the medal podium might come from Japanese Yuki Yamazaki, who showed some of his speed early in the London 20km race, Russian Pyotr Trofimov or Slovak Matej Tóth, who finished eighth in the London 50km, but after winning three 20km races this season.

Liu Hong the woman to beat

In the women’s race we should see the first Chinese winner since the IAAF Race Walking Challenge was moved to the 10km distance in 2009. Russians have grabbed all three wins since, including a surprise by Tatyana Sibileva in Beijing 2010.

But Liu Hong, who finished second in both 2010 and 2011, and Olympic bronze medallist Qieyang Shenjie are in such form that others will have a hard time chasing them in this competition. Liu didn’t win a medal in London finishing in fourth place, but here it would not be a surprise if she emerged as a winner again. 21-year-old Qieyang has risen rapidly to the world top, but the fifth place in Daegu and the bronze in London show that she will fight for the win here too.

The third Chinese in the race, just 18-year-old Lu Xiuzhi, can’t be forgotten either. The junior athlete competed at senior level for the first time in 2012 hitting an impressive streak of results. She set the Asian junior record 1:27:01 in the 20km finishing in second place in Taicang at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge and then was fourth at the World Cup and sixth at the Olympics. The other countries were overshadowed by China and Russia in London where the two countries took all the first six places in the 20km. The best of the rest in that competition, places 7-9 are competing here and could be ready for an upset.

All of the three, like the Chinese, are also eligible for the prize money. The 2008 Olympics bronze medallist from Italy, Elisa Rigaudo, is one of these athletes. The 32-year-old finished seventh in London and the World Cup as well. 30-year-old Spaniard Beatriz Pascual was eighth in London and has done well in the previous IAAF Race Walking Challenge competitions this season. She won in Rio Maior, was second in La Coruña and fifth at the World Cup. Portuguese Ana Cabecinha was ninth in London and the World Cup and finished in fourth place in last year’s final in La Coruña.

The impressive fields continues with Russian Tatyana Korotkova, Portugal’s Inês Henriques, Australian Claire Tallent and Ireland’s Olive Loughnane. The 36-year-old Irish athlete won a silver medal in Berlin World Championships 2009.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF