Qieyang Shenjie and Eleonora Giorgi in the early stages of the Grande Prémio Internacional de Rio Maior em Marcha Atlética 2016 (© Ricardo Aurelio / Desmor)
China’s Olympic silver medallist Qieyang Shenjie fulfilled her role as favourite at the Grande Prémio Internacional de Rio Maior em Marcha Atlética 2016, an IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting, winning in a season’s best of 1:27:52 on Saturday (9).
She hit the front just before the halfway point and had a three-second advantage over Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi at 10km. The pair had quickly established a big lead over the rest of the women until Qieyang started to edge away, passing this checkpoint in 44:18 and 44:21 respectively.
Qieyang then gradually increased her speed, getting faster and faster over the last 10 kilometres and dominating the race from the front, emulating her compatriot Liu Hong who won in Rio Maior 12 months ago.
After going through the first two 5km splits in 22:11 and 22:07, the Chinese race walker ratcheted up the pace and produced a 5km split of 21:58 to go through 15km in 1:06:14, 15 seconds ahead of the Italian who had won at the last European leg of the challenge in the Slovakian town of Dudince three weeks ago.
Qieyang finished off her commanding performance in Rio Maior with a 21:38 5km split to cross the line 28 seconds in advance of Giorgi, who came home in 1:28:20 to finish second behind a Chinese race walker for the second year running.
For Qieyang, it was also a happy retrun to the Portuguese race and redemption for what happened in 2015, when the former Asian record-holder had to pull out barely five kilometres into the race.
"I was pleased with this performance," said Qieyang, whose case for going to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be strengthened by this win, despite finishing fourth at China's recent Olympic trial race. "This was a good competition with a good course. I intended to make about 1:28 and I made a little faster. This was a good test for me, with great sensations for my plans concerning the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships and I'm looking forward for the Olympic Games."
Fellow Italian Elisa Rigaudo finished strongly over the last three kilometres to take third in 1:28:31, the 2008 Olympic and 2011 world bronze medallist finishing in this position in Rio Maior for the second consecutive year.
Further back, Brazil’s Erica de Sena, who was part of a big chasing group that was 39 seconds behind Giorgi at the halfway point, just lost out in the battle with Rigaudo for the final place on the podium over the final five kilometres but still finished in 1:28:40, just 18 seconds adrift of the South American record she set when finishing second to Giorgi in Dudince.
Martin has best day of his career
Alvaro Martin, last year’s European under-23 silver medallist, got the biggest win of his career when the 21-year-old Spaniard took the men’s title in 1:21:03 with South Africa’s Lebogang Shange 20 seconds further back in second place.
Ecuador’s Andres Chocho, this year’s winner of the 50km at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge event in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez at the start of last month and the 20km gold medallist at the South American Race Walking Championships last weekend, showed just a few effects of his hectic schedule to finish third in 1:21:58.
Martin, Shange and Chocho passed the halfway point together in 40:55, part of a large group of 10, before breaking away shortly afterwards.
This trio, along with Venezuela’s Richard Vargas, were still together 5km later when they reached 15km in 1:01:13, with Italy’s Marco De Luca 10 seconds further back in fifth place.
But Martin threw down the gauntlet over the final five kilometres, covering this split in 19:50 to get away from his two rivals.
"This was great, because I had good rivals here and they pushed me to this great win. I’m very pleased with that," said the delighted winner.
"I came here to win or at least to make the podium. I had unbeatable sensations, felt quite strong throughout the race and had no problems to break away from my rivals over the closing kilometres. Today's event was intented to be a test for next month's IAAF Walk Race Walking Team Championships to be held in Rome," added Martin.
Shange only settled for second place over the final kilometre but Chocho struggled in the later stages of the race and was almost caught by De Luca, who came through to finish fourth in 1:22:01.
Brazil's Jose Bagio finished fifth in 1:22:15 as Vargas struggled over the final five kilmetres and slipped back to sixth in 1:22:27.
Guatemala’s Olympic silver medallist Erick Barrondo was disqualified at about 14km while another of the favoured South American contingent, Brazil’s Caio Bonfim, dropped out early in the race.
Phil Minshull and Antonio Fernandes for the IAAF