Previews03 Jun 2021

Race Walking Challenge gets under way in La Coruna


Swedish race walker Perseus Karlstrom (© Getty Images)

After last year’s cancellation because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Gran Premio Cantones de La Coruna ­– the Spanish leg of this year’s World Athletics Challenge - Race Walking – returns on Saturday (5) to confirm that the event is arguably one of the key 20km competitions of the season.

Podebrady podium will clash again

In the absence of the always powerful Asian armada, the top Europeans will kick off as the main favourites in the guise of Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom and the Spanish tandem of the European champion Alvaro Martin and silver medallist Diego Garcia. Authorised neutral athlete Vasiliy Mizinov was initially announced but due to visa problems the current world 20km silver medallist won’t be competing.

As for the reigning world bronze medallist Karsltrom, the 31-year-old is fresh from a commanding win in 1:18:54 at the European Race Walking Team Championships in Podebrady 20 days ago. The Swede is enjoying a very solid season as he also won in Murcia in March – on the occasion of the Spanish Championships – in a season’s best of 1:18:45, while his PB remains the 1:18:07 he set in La Coruna in 2019 when he placed fourth.

The local duo of Martin and Garcia should also be a factor on Saturday. The latter prevailed over Martin in Murcia – 1:19:40 and 1:19:54 their respective times – to take the Spanish title but the European champion bounced back in Podebrady when he defeated Garcia to finish second (PB of 1:19:14) and third (1:19:19) respectively.

Of this leading triumvirate, all among the top 10 in the world rankings, only Martin has previously won the event. He did so in 2017, when Karlstrom was runner-up, while Garcia also finished second in 2018.

Other notable entrants are Germany’s world fourth-placer Christopher Linke, holder of a 1:18:42 PB, and Spain’s Luis Alberto Amezcua, who recently clocked 1:19:54 in Murcia to claim national bronze. Watch out too for his fellow Spaniard Marc Tur, a convincing victor in Podebrady at the 50km event in a massive career best of 3:47.40, while a large Mexican squad will also be on show headed by Isaac Palma (1:20:54) and Carlos Sanchez (1:20:39).

Morejon to maintain momentum

The women’s event will be held two hours before the men’s competition gets under way.

Ecuador’s Glenda Morejon should arguably be tipped as the marquee athlete; the still 21-year-old made a major breakthrough in La Coruna in 2019 when she won in style thanks to a 1:25:29 performance to set a still-standing world U20 record. The big question mark for Saturday is whether she will have recovered from the effort she made last Saturday at the South American Championships in Guayaquil where Morejon won gold in the 20,000m track event in 1:29:24, head and shoulders clear of Brazil’s Erica Sena, runner-up in 1:30:51. The 36-year-old Brazilian will also be in contention in La Coruna. A creditable fourth at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London, she took the top spot La Coruna in 2017.

The Spanish charge will be led by Laura Garcia-Caro and Raquel Gonzalez. The former is fresh from a third place in Podebrady in a PB of 1:28:07, while Gonzalez also performed well in the Czech city as she claimed fourth with a 1:28:37 clocking, just one second off her 2014 career best. They both will be aiming for a podium place alongside the reigning European 50km bronze medallist Julia Takacs, holder of a 1:27:58 career best and twice second here back in 2013 and 2018.

Colombia’s Sandra Lorena Arenas should also be in the hunt for victory. The 2012 world U20 bronze medallist finished fifth at the Doha World Championships and boasts a PB of 1:28:03. Since Doha, Arenas has only competed once, taking a comfortable 10km win timed at 44:40 in Olomouc.

The course records belong to Japan’s Toshikazu Yamanishi, owner of an impressive clocking of 1:17:41 in 2019, and Liu Hong with a stunning performance of 1:24:38 six years ago, a world record then and still the third quickest ever athlete.

Venue of the 2006 World Cup, the list of past winners includes Olympic champions such as Italy’s Maurizio Damilano, Mexico’s Ernesto Canto, Poland’s Robert Korzeniowski and Ecuador’s Jefferson Perez in the men’s event plus China’s Liu Hong among women.

More than 160 race walkers will take part in the event, Mexico being the largest squad with 38 athletes.

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 sunny day with a light breeze and temperatures in the 16-18C range at race time.

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics

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