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Previews09 Jul 2022


WCH Oregon22 preview: race walks

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Liu Hong and Koki Ikeda (© AFP / Getty Images)

Men's 20km race walk

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Race walking, particularly on the men’s side, has proven to be one of Japan’s most successful athletics disciplines in recent years.

Both the men’s 20km and 50km world titles went to Japanese athletes in 2019, while the host nation’s only athletics medals at the Tokyo Olympics last year came in the men’s 20km race walk.

Toshikazu Yamanishi, winner in Doha three years ago, will defend his title at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, where races will be held on a one-kilometre looped course starting and finishing on Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard in front of Autzen Stadium, a short hop over the river from Hayward Field.

Yamanishi has raced just once this year, but it was a convincing outing, winning the 20km at the World Race Walking Team Championships in Muscat. The sweltering conditions certainly had an impact on times, so don’t read too much into his 1:22:52 season’s best from the Omani capital. His 37-second margin of victory there over the world’s best race walkers, however, speaks volumes.

Compatriot Koki Ikeda, silver medallist at the Tokyo Olympics and runner-up to Yamanishi in Muscat, has the fastest season’s best of all the entrants, thanks to his 1:18:53 victory in Wajima in April. A frequent podium finisher at major events, Ikeda will be keen to atone for his sixth-place finish in Doha three years ago.

Eiki Takahashi is one of the fastest men in history at this distance and has competed at the past three World Championships and two Olympic Games. The 29-year-old from Japan has yet to finish inside the top 10 at a global championships, but is more than capable of doing so.

Given the men’s race walking disciplines will be held nine days apart, 15 men will be doubling over 20km and 35km in Oregon.

Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom had a shaky start to the year but his victory over 35km at the World Race Walking Team Championships marked a turning point. The 32-year-old went on to clock a season’s best of 1:19:42 over 20km and a world-leading 37:57.02 over 10,000m on the track, ranking him fifth on the world all-time list for the distance. He is clearly a much stronger race walker than he was when he claimed world bronze in 2019, so he’ll be keen to improve on that medal.

Colombia’s Eider Arevalo, world 20km champion back in 2017, is also entered for both disciplines in Oregon, so too is Brazil’s 2017 world bronze medallist Caio Bonfim, Ecuador’s Pan American Games champion Brian Pintado, and Germany’s Christopher Linke. All four of those men have displayed strong enough form this season to suggest they could be a factor over either distance in Oregon.

Eider Arevalo wins the 20km race walk at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London

Eider Arevalo wins the 20km race walk at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London (© Getty Images)

 

Spain will once again be well represented in the race walks. European champion Alvaro Martin, runner-up over 35km in Muscat, steps back down to his preferred 20km distance for Oregon. His confidence will be high following his 1:19:58 triumph in La Coruna.

European silver medallist Diego Garcia Carrera finished just two seconds behind Martin in La Coruna, while Spanish champion Alberto Amezcua has an identical season’s best to Martin.

Samuel Gathimba made history in Muscat earlier this year by becoming the first Kenyan race walker to reach a podium at a senior global event, finishing third behind Yamanishi and Ikeda. The fearless 34-year-old recently won his third consecutive African title in this discipline and will be keen to continue blazing a trail for Kenyan race walkers by making an impact in Oregon.

Other potential contenders include Ireland’s David Kenny and Chinese duo Wang Kaihua, the national record-holder, and Cui Lihong.

 

Women's 20km race walk

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The winner of the women’s 20km race walk will be the first champion to be crowned at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 as it is held on the afternoon of the first day.

Four-time world champion Liu Hong will defend her title, seeking to become the first five-time world champion in a race walking event. The Chinese race walker has reached the podium at every major championships she has contested from 2009 onwards, most recently taking bronze at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

She hasn’t competed at all this year, however, so her form going into Oregon is somewhat unknown, but Liu rarely has a bad race so should still be a strong contender.

Italy’s Antonella Palmisano and Colombia’s Sandra Arenas – the two women who finished ahead of Liu in Tokyo last year – won’t be in Oregon. But Liu’s compatriot Qieyang Shijie, silver medallist in Doha three years ago, heads to the USA in superb form.

The 31-year-old, whose Olympic silver from 2012 is in line to be upgraded to gold, currently tops the World Athletics Race Walking Tour standings, having won Gold level meetings in Dudince (35km), Madrid (10km) and La Coruna (20km). Unsurprisingly, given her range, Qieyang will be doubling in the 20km and 35km in Oregon and stands a good chance of becoming the first woman to win medals in two race walking disciplines in one World Championships.

Ma Zhenxia, winner of the 20km at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat22, is another strong medal contender for China. Indeed, there’s a good chance that China could sweep the 20km medals for the second World Championships in a row.

Ma Zhenxia on her way to winning the women's 20km in Muscat

Ma Zhenxia on her way to winning the women's 20km in Muscat (© Getty Images)

But such a result is by no means a guarantee.

Australia’s Commonwealth champion Jemima Montag has the fastest season’s best of all entrants and, apart from a DNF in La Coruna, has not been beaten this year. She broke the Oceanian record with 1:27:27 back in February and set world-leading marks over 5000m and 10,000m on the track.

Montag has been steadily improving with each global championships appearance, placing 10th in Doha three years ago and sixth at the Olympic Games last year. It surely won’t be long before she makes it on to the podium.

European champion Maria Perez of Spain narrowly missed the podium at the Olympics last year, so carried lots of motivation into this season, resulting in a 1:27:40 clocking in February – the second-fastest of her career.

Since winning a pair of global U20 titles in 2018, Mexico's Alegna Gonzalez has been inching closer to a podium finish at senior global events. She was fifth at the Olympics last year and fourth in Muscat earlier this year. The 23-year-old will be highly driven to make the podium in Oregon.

Like Qieyang, Ecuador’s Glenda Morejon and Peru’s Kimberly Garcia will be taking on both race walking distances in Oregon. Garcia broke her own national record in La Coruna in May, clocking 1:28:38, so she’ll have plenty of confidence going into the 20km in Oregon. Morejon, meanwhile, triumphed over 35km at the World Race Walking Team Championships in March, so she may be focused more on that distance in Oregon, but she also happens to be one of the fastest women in history over 20km, so will likely be a factor at this discipline too.

 

Men's 35km race walk

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Held on the final day of the championships, the men’s 35km is shaping up to be an enthralling battle between the World Race Walking Team Championships winner, the Olympic 20km and 50km champions, a trio of top Japanese race walkers, two past winners of the world 20km title, and two of the 50km medallists from Doha three years ago.

He may not be the fastest on the entry lists, but Perseus Karlstrom perhaps commands the most respect given the manner of his victory over 35km at the World Race Walking Team Championships. The Swede had talked beforehand of the struggles he’d battled leading up to the race, but then things clicked for him in the latter stages and he won convincingly by 40 seconds. After the race he broke into fits of uncontrollable laughter. “It shouldn’t be this easy,” he commented.

And that was by no means meant to disrespect his opponents; rather, it was in reference to his less-than-ideal preparation. Since then, the 32-year-old has gone from strength to strength, and he’d have gained great confidence from clocking a swift 37:57.02 over 10,000m in his final race before Oregon.

Perseus Karlstrom celebrates his win at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22

Perseus Karlstrom celebrates his win at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22 (© Getty Images)

But if quick times count for anything, look out for Japan’s Masatora Kawano, Daisuke Matsunaga and Tomohiro Noda. They have the fastest PBs of all the entrants for Oregon, with Kawano setting an Asian record of 2:26:40 in Wajima earlier this year. Kawano finished sixth at the Olympics last year and fourth in Muscat in March, so he’ll be keen to finally make it on to the podium in a global event.

Italy’s Massimo Stano decided against contesting the distance over which he won the Olympic title last year and will instead race over 35km in Oregon. His convincing 2:29:09 victory over the longer distance in Dudince perhaps swayed his decision, and it could well prove to be a smart one.

Poland’s Dawid Tomala, Olympic champion over 50km, is also entered for the 35km in Oregon. He isn’t one of the fastest entrants based on season’s bests, but that was also the case going into the 50km in Tokyo last year, so don’t discount another surprise performance from the 32-year-old.

Joao Vieira and Evan Dunfee shared the 50km podium at the last World Championships, the 46-year-old Portuguese race walker taking silver just three seconds ahead of the Canadian. Dunfee got the upper hand in Tokyo last year, though, taking bronze while Vieira placed fifth. Dunfee also placed seventh in Muscat earlier this year and has shown improved form since then, suggesting he’ll once again peak for the year’s major event.

Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez and Colombia’s Eider Arevalo, world 20km champions in 2015 and 2017 respectively, have stepped up in distance this year. Lopez clocked a Spanish record of 2:27:53, while Arevalo boasts a PB of 2:32:08.

Like Karlstrom and Arevalo, Brazil’s Caio Bonfim and Germany’s Christopher Linke are also doubling up. They have often been in contention at major events and should be once again in Oregon.

 

Women's 35km race walk

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The battle for the women’s 35km title will likely boil down to who has recovered best from the 20km one week prior, as the leading contenders in this discipline are doubling up in Oregon.

World 20km silver medallist Qieyang Shijie moved up in distance this year and in her first race over 35km set an Asian record of 2:43:06. That time also makes her the fastest among the athletes entered for this event in Oregon.

Peru’s Kimberly Garcia finished second to Qieyang over this distance in Dudince, clocking a South American record of 2:43:19. The 28-year-old has never made a global podium over 20km, but could fancy her chances at this new distance, given her impressive start.

Glenda Morejon is another race walker who has taken to the new longer distance. The Ecuadorian became the fastest teenager in history over 20km when she sped to a 1:25:29 clocking in La Coruna in 2019 in what was her debut over the distance. But her debut over 35km was just as impressive as she won the event at the World Race Walking Team Championships in Muscat.

The 22-year-old hasn’t raced since then, but earlier in the year she won the South American title over 20km.

Glenda Morejon wins the 35km in Muscat

Glenda Morejon wins the 35km in Muscat (© Dan Vernon)

China’s Li Maocuo also excels at longer distances. She earned world silver over 50km in 2019 and this year she finished runner-up to Morejon in Muscat before finishing third in Dudince behing Qieyang and Garcia.

Ines Henriques, the inaugural women’s world champion over 50km, is entered for both race walking disciplines but will likely be more competitive over 35km. The 42-year-old from Portugal will be making her 10th appearance at a World Championships – a tally bettered only by her compatriot Susana Feitor.

But Henriques won’t be the oldest in the race. That honour belongs to Australia’s Kelly Ruddick who, at 49, will become the oldest ever competitor in a women’s event at the World Championships.

Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics