Previews01 Jun 2023

Perez, Garcia, Liu and Yang set to clash in La Coruna


Maria Perez on her way to a 35km world record at the European Race Walking Team Championships (© Podebrady 2023 LOC / European Athletics)

The Gran Premio Cantones de La Coruña Trofeo Sergio Vazquez – the Spanish Gold leg of this year’s World Athletics Race Walking Tour – returns on Saturday (3) and looks to be one of the key 20km competitions of the season.

As is often the case, the race organisers have assembled a plethora of international medallists and top race walkers for both 20km events.

Spain’s local star Maria Perez set a 35km world record in Podebrady barely two weeks ago with her 2:37:15 victory at the European Race Walking Team Championships. The 27-year-old is also the current world leader over 20km with the 1:25:30 Spanish record she set in March.

Following a disappointing 2022 season when she suffered disqualifications over 20km at both the World and European Championships, Pérez took a sabbatical from race walking.

“Those DQs were a huge setback for me and I needed to disconnect for some time and do different things, so I spent the whole autumn just running instead of walking,” said the 2018 European champion. She even took part in the famous ‘San Silvestre Vallecana’, the 10km road race held on New Year’s Eve in Madrid where she recorded a respectable 34:08.

“I only resumed race walking training at the end of 2022 and have been working very hard on my technique in recent months to do it safer.”

Judging by her 2023 outings, Pérez’s new technique has paid off and she will be aiming for her first victory in Cantones after her third place last year. On a statistical note, she covered the final 20km in Podebrady in a terrific 1:28:23 – a time only bettered by nine women this year. The big question is whether she will have recovered properly during those 13 days.

Pérez’s main danger should come from China’s world record-holder Yang Jiayu. The 2017 world champion recently won the Madrid 10km (43:20) and boasts a season’s best of 1:26:41. She will be joined by compatriot Qieyang Shijie, the defending champion and a three-time victor in Cantones. The 32-year-old is still rounding into form having placed second in Rio Maior with 1:29:11 only behind Yang.

The powerful Chinese squad also includes Liu Hong, who broke the world record here in 2015 with 1:24:38. The 36-year-old holds a season’s best of 1:27:35 and shouldn’t be ruled out. Watch out also for Yang Liujing, the 2019 world bronze medallist, as she finished third in Rio Maior (1:29:31) and boasts a PB of 1:25:59 set in 2021.

In addition to her Chinese challengers, Pérez will also face tough opposition from three Latin-American specialists: Peru’s double world champion Kimberly Garcia, Ecuador’s Glenda Morejon and Mexico’s Alegna Gonzalez.

The 29-year-old Garcia set a world 35km record in Dudince with 2:37:44 in March but her reign was short-lived as Pérez sliced 29 seconds from that mark just 57 days later. The Peruvian, runner-up last year here, finished fourth in Rio Maior with a season’s best of 1:29:31.

The 23-year-old Morejon made a major breakthrough in La Coruna in 2019 when she won in a world U20 best of 1:25:29. Meanwhile, the in-form Gonzalez placed seventh at the Tokyo Olympics and fifth at last year’s World Championships over 20km. She recently won the 20km in Dudince before taking third at the Madrid 10km in 43:35.

Wide open men’s contest

The men’s event also features the world leader – China’s Jun Zhang, who clocked 1:17:38 earlier this year – but the 24-year-old had to settle for 12th place in Rio Maior in 1:23:46. He will be accompanied by three other compatriots who have dipped inside 1:20 this season: Xingfu Li (1:19:52), Xing Liu (1:19:58) and Wenchao Niu (1:19:59).

Japanese duo Yuta Koga and Yutaro Murayama should also be in contention.

Despite holding a modest 1:21:44 season’s best, Spain’s Álvaro Martín should be regarded as one of the athletes to beat following his strong display over 35km at the European Team Championships when he won in a national record of 2:25:35. The 28-year-old will be looking for a hat-trick of 20km wins here after his victories in 2017 and 2022. The two-time European champion has confirmed on the eve of the competition he feels well recovered from his effort in Podebrady and he is hoping to break his PB of 1:19:11.

Other leading Spaniards include Diego García, Alberto Amezcua and Paul Mc Grath. García is the European bronze medallist, boasts a career best of 1:18:58, won here in 2021 and finished runner-up last year. Amezcua was fourth at the 2022 European Championships and more recently in Podebrady where he clocked a season’s best of 1:20:24 just ahead of world U20 bronze medallist Paul Mc Grath, fresh from a 1:21:15 PB for fifth on that occasion.

The Ecuadorian tandem of Brian Pintado and Daniel Hurtado shouldn’t be discounted for podium places. The former was a commanding victor in Rio Maior four weeks ago in a massive PB of 1:19:05 while Hurtado has walked even faster with a 1:18:45 clocking set in Taicang. He will be delighted to improve on his fourth-place finish from last year just behind Brazil’s Caio Bonfim, one of the world’s most consistent race walkers, who will also be on show on Saturday having placed first or second on his five outings this year, topped by a solid win in Warsaw in a season’s best of 1:19:42.

The hard-to-break course records belong to Japan’s world champion Toshikazu Yamanishi, who won here in 2019 in 1:17:41, and Liu Hong with her stunning 1:24:38 performance eight years ago, a world record then and still the third quickest ever athlete.

No fewer than 199 race walkers – 84 women and 115 men – will take part in the event, representing up to 25 different countries.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe awarded a World Athletics Heritage Plaque to the organisers of the event in March 2019 to recognise the event’s rich 34-year history.

Weather forecasters are predicting a cloudy day with a light breeze, some rain likelihood and temperatures in the 17-20C range at race time.

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics

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