Kimberly Garcia on her way to winning the 20km race walk at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© Getty Images)
The women’s world 20km race walk title has been the domain of Chinese athletes for more than 10 years, but Kimberly Garcia ended that streak at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
What made the 28-year-old’s performance all the more notable is that it was the first medal for Peru in World Championships history – and a golden one at that.
She timed her race to perfection, making a relatively early but conservative break alongside China’s Qieyang Shijie just before the three-kilometre mark. They passed 5km in 21:42, 14 seconds ahead of Poland’s Katarzyna Zdzieblo while a chase pack containing China’s Ma Zhenxia, Australia’s Jemima Montag and defending champion Liu Hong was a few strides further behind.
Qieyang and Garcia continued to race side by side for another eight laps of the one-kilometre loop, passing through 10km in 43:31. They reached 14km just inside 1:01:00 and Garcia then started to ease ahead of the 2012 Olympic champion, maintaining her 4:20 laps. By the time she reached 17km, Garcia had a comfortable 18-second lead over her Chinese rival, who by now was starting to struggle.
Over the course of the next lap, Garcia continued to pull away and Zdzieblo overtook Qieyang. Further behind, Montag maintained her fourth-placed position, unable to make a dent on the lead trio while also staying a healthy distance ahead of Liu.
Garcia saved her fastest kilometre for the final circuit, cruising around in 4:13 to cross the line in 1:26:58, smashing her own national record by one minute and 40 seconds. Zdzieblo was also rewarded with a national record, clocking 1:27:31 to take silver. 11 years after her first global podium finish, Qieyang earned a medal of the same hue as she held on to take bronze in 1:27:56 ahead of Montag (1:28:17) and Liu (1:29:00).
“I have worked hard, hoping to achieve a good placing,” said Garcia. “It's not been easy but I am a fighter. I stayed focused on my goal to achieve a medal. I thought of that during the entire race and things worked out.
“At the 15km mark, my coach instructed me to up the pace,” she added. “I told myself it would be now or never. I gave my all in the last kilometre to break my national record.”
Ever since winning the South American title back in 2014 at the age of 20, Garcia has been one of the world’s leading race walkers. She was 14th at the 2016 Rio Olympics and seventh at the 2017 World Championships before taking Pan-American silver in 2019. She rebounded from a DNF at last year’s Olympic Games to finish third at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22 earlier this year – her first podium finish at a global competition.
Following her performance in Muscat, she won at the World Race Walking Tour Gold meet in Rio Maior and then finished second to Qieyang in La Coruna, clocking 1:28:38 – the national record which Garcia went on to smash in Oregon when achieving her historic gold.
“I have dreamed of this medal since I was little,” said Garcia. “I want to dedicate it to all Peruvians; they will be very proud. This is our country’s first medal at the World Championships and I hope it won't be the last one.”
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics
|WOMEN'S 20km RACE WALK MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Kimberly Garcia Leon 🇵🇪 PER||1:26:58 NR|
|🥈||Katarzyna Zdzieblo 🇵🇱 POL||1:27:31 NR|
|🥉||Qieyang Shijie 🇨🇳 CHN||1:27:56|