Andres Chocho on his way to winning the 50km in Ciudad Juarez (© Chihuahua Sports Institute)
Ecuador’s Andres Chocho, Spain’s Diego Garcia and Brazil’s Erica de Sena lead a strong group of decorated athletes who will attempt to spoil a Mexican party as the country prepares to host the 2019 Pan American Race Walking Cup, the fifth leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge, in the south eastern city of Lazaro Cardenas in the state of Michoacan.
Chocho and De Sena have stepped on the podium at every race they have competed in Mexico since 2015, with the Ecuadorian taking two wins over 50km. They will now attempt to dominate the 20km on the first day on Saturday.
Partners both in athletics and life, they both made their season’s debut earlier this month in Rio Major, Portugal, and will likely face a strong challenge from athletes coming from beyond the Americas continent.
“This is a different year as the World Championships will be held much later in the year,” said Chocho. “We recently finished our physical conditioning, which has been longer than usual. This is the only challenge event in our continent so we are motivated and by the great organisation and the warmth of the people.”
After a solid start at the Oceania Championships at home, Olympic bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith will aim to become the first Australian to claim an IAAF Race Walking win in Mexico.
The co-winner of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in 2018, Spain’s Diego García should also be a top contender for the 20km podium. The European silver medallist proved his fine form at his season’s debut with a second-place finish in Rio Major earlier this month.
The host country will be represented by 21 men in the 20km, led by 2009 world bronze medallist Eder Sanchez. They last won the men’s continental trophy at this distance in 2013.
The field also features Guatemala’s 2012 Olympic silver medallist and 2015 winner Erick Barrondo as well as Brazil’s world bronze medallist Caio Bonfim, a two-time senior medallist in the continental event.
In the women’s race, De Sena is expected to relive another South American duel with Peru’s Kimberly Garcia. The latter won the Pan American Cup at the age of 19 in 2013 and finished second behind 2016 Olympic silver medallist and 2018 IAAF Race Walking Team Championships winner Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez.
De Sena returns to this continental event after making her debut in Colombia in 2011 with an eighth-place finish.
Making her debut in Mexico, Spain’s Maria Perez may well spoil a Latin American party. The European champion and Spanish record-holder had a solid start in 2019 by taking the national title a month ago with 1:30:55.
Portugal’s Ana Cabecinhas will return to Mexico. The six-time world and Olympic finalist has been on the podium in all five races she contested in Mexico between 2012 and 2017.
The host country will feature 15 women, led by 1:29:35 performer Alejandra Ortega. Guatemala will have 2015 bronze medallist Mirna Ortiz.
Canada will have a small but competitive five-athlete squad, led by Olympic Games 50km fourth-place finisher Evan Dunfee, who will contest the shorter distance. The team also includes national record-holder Rachel Seaman and Mathieu Bilodeau, fourth over 50km two years ago in Lima.
The men’s 50km features the champions in the past three editions: Ecuador’s Claudio Villanueva (2017), Mexico’s Horacio Nava (2015) and Omar Zepeda (2013).
Fellow Mexican Jose Ojeda, the Central American and Caribbean Games champion and three-time winner of the Mexican leg of the challenge at this distance, will be another serious podium contender. Colombia will have 2017 bronze medallist José Montaña and Jorge Armando Ruiz, both medallists at the CAC Games on home soil in 2018.
Ecuador should feature prominently in the women’s 50km, contested for the second time at the Pan Am Cup since its debut in Lima in 2017. Johanna Ordoñez and Magaly Bonilla, sixth and 11th respectively at the 2018 World Race Walking Team Championships, lead the field which also includes women from Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and the United States.
The two-day event will feature 10km for athletes under 20 years of age and the 20km on Saturday, followed by the 50km on Sunday on a flat two-kilometre course with the start and finish at Lazaro Cardenas City Hall. The top 10 in the 20km and top six in the 50km will accumulate points for the IAAF Race Walking Challenge standings. The top six in each elite race will also receive prize money.
First held in 1984, the Pan American Race Walking Cup returns to Mexico for the fourth time, after 16 years, having been held previously in Xalapa (1990), Poza Rica (2000) and Tijuana, only for 50km, in 2003.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF