Chinese race walker Liu Hong in action (© AFP / Getty Images)
Three-time world 20km race walk champion and 50km world record-holder Liu Hong will lead a strong Chinese contingent aiming to win both the individual and team titles at the Around Taihu International Race Walking competition, the last leg of this year’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge that will start on Sunday (20).
The three-day event, which starts on Sunday (20), attracts many of the world’s best race walkers and consists of a 20km race in the Taihu Lake holiday resort and two 12km races in Taihu New Town and the ancient town of Mudu. Just the 20km stage counts towards the IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
The 32-year-old, who took the individual victory in the Chinese city of Suzhou when the competition was first launched in 2013, has enjoyed a successful season. Returning from a two-year maternity break, she improved the 50km world record to 3:59:15 in March. More recently, she clocked 1:32:53 to win the 20km gold medal at the World Championships in Doha at the end of last month and currently sits second in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge standings.
Liu’s compatriot Qieyang Shijie, winner of the competition in 2016, currently sits at the top of the standings with 34 points. The 28-year-old was victorious in Taicang and Rio Maior and finished second in Doha.
Defending champion Wang Yingliu is another serious title contender. The 27-year-old, a 1:28:15 performer in 20km, took the individual title last year with a combined time of 3:13:17 (1:29:55, 51:28, 51:54) thanks to her strong first-day performance, beating Qieyang with a combined margin of 1:14.
The local race walkers also include world 50km silver medallist Li Maocuo, who finished third in Suzhou last year, and 2015 world 20km silver medallist Lu Xiuzhi, who owns a 20km personal best of 1:25:12. Like Wang, Lu also failed to make it to Doha but could be in better physical condition compared to her other teammates.
Overseas athletes that could threaten the Chinese include Brazil’s Erica De Sena and Colombia’s Lorena Arenas, who finished fourth and fifth respectively in Doha.
In the absence of Japan’s newly-crowned world 20km champion Toshikazu Yamanishi, Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom will be keen to make up the three-point deficit in the Race Walking Challenge standings to finish the series on top.
The 29-year-old took 20km bronze in Doha, having improved his own national record to 1:18:07 in La Coruna in June. The in-form Karlstrom will also be keen to improve on his fifth-place finish from last year.
Since 2018 champion Eider Arevalo of Colombia will not compete this year, Lebogang Shange will be the highest ranked returner. The South African trailed just three seconds behind Arevalo last year to finish second individually.
Shange also took the team title together with Karlstrom, Brazil’s world bronze medallist Caio Bonfim and Andres Chocho of Ecuador, as their team ‘Latin Power’ retained their title in 9:04:16.
As Bonfim will not compete this year, the remaining trio will have to find a new teammate if they want to earn a hat-trick in Suzhou.
Chen Ding is the most well-known figure on the Chinese team for Suzhou. After missing the whole of the 2018 season, the 2012 Olympic champion is still struggling to find his best form this year. With a 20km PB of 1:17:40 set back in 2012, his best performance this year is a 1:22:57 clocking in La Coruna where the 27-year-old finished 44th.
Wang Zhen, winner in 2015, was the last Chinese race walker to win the men’s contest in Suzhou.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF