Yang Jiayu wins in Rio Maior (© Organisers)
The Grande Premio Internacional de Rio Maior on Saturday (6) – the latest Gold stop on the World Athletics Race Walking Tour – produced wins for Yang Jiayu and Brian Pintado – but the races couldn’t have been more different.
The women’s world record-holder had to throw herself over the finish to beat three-time winner Qieyang Shijie. But Pintado, defending his crown, had the luxury of walking solo over the last 4km. In doing so, he got revenge over Caio Bonfim who had beaten him two weeks ago in Warsaw.
China made it a 1-2-3 in the women’s 20km when Yang Liujing crossed 20 seconds after Yang’s 1:29:09 with double world champion Kimberley Garcia forced to settle for fourth, albeit a single second behind Yang.
Even though the women started at 6pm and the men 12 minutes later, it was still a warm 21C. Fortunately, one side of the course was shaded by shops and buildings.
Later in the race a merciful cloud cover also shielded race walkers from the evening sun, which might explain why times were much improved on 2022.
In the women’s race a large group close to 20 detached itself from the slower race walkers after a single lap. Qieyang was first to trip the timer in a comfortable 4:41.
The second circuit was a quicker 9:10, with world record-holder Yang heading three other red vests, but you could have thrown a blanket over the whole group.
Garcia got her nose in from going into lap four. All were timed at 18:11 after the fourth lap, and the front was clearly moving through the gears.
Quarter distance was reached in 22:42, but now the leaders were down to a dozen, with Puerto Rico's Rachelle Orbeta seven seconds back and losing ground. Brazil’s Viviane Lyra was giving it a spirited go at the front. The 29-year-old, with a PB of 1:32:31, was breathing the rarefied air of the elite.
At this part of the race, there was also the sight of the women’s lead group on one side of the road and the men’s spearhead on the other. Pretty much everyone else was on their way to being lapped by the talent at the front.
Halfway was a modest 45:01, which rather explained the relatively large group at the head of the race. Two laps later the pack had been whittled down to seven, with Lyra now paying for her earlier effort.
Impressively, Portugal’s Ana Cabecinha and Erica Sena from Brazil were still there. Add their two ages and you get 77 – but even so the pair were having terrific races.
For the next 4km, no one gave an inch. And then at the end of lap 18, the Chinese could wait no longer. The eventual first and second places took off, and no one could live with them.
Yang and Qieyang were locked together until the final 25 metres when the former showed why she holds the world record. Even so, she looked like this win had been hard earned.
The men were strung out barely 30 seconds after the starter’s gun. Bonfim, Pintado and double world champion Toshikazu Yamanishi were first to show, knocking off a speedy first kilometre in 3:56.
A lap later and the leaders were already down to six, including three Chinese and a second Ecuadorean, David Hurtado.
Yamanishi stopped the clock at 19:54 for 5km, and the spearhead appeared to be down to five, with Bonfim desperately trying to stay in touch.
A second group of 15 was 25 seconds further back, headed by a second wave of Chinese: in fact, a race within a race. Zhang Jun was the only Chinese left with the two Ecuadoreans, Japanese and Bonfim by 7km.
Yamanish was first through halfway in 39:44, a split second separating him from the other five. But a lap later, the pace proved too much for Hurtado, who disappeared off the back and to be quickly passed by Bonfim still battling to get back in touch.
The second group had broken up with Wang Kaihua 29 seconds in arrears now walking solo, and the remnants of the second group another 13 seconds down.
And then just after 15km, Pintado injected a stunning burst of pace – and nobody had the answer.
Bonfim somehow dug into hidden reserves to claw his way back into contention, but tellingly, Yamanishi was now glancing over his shoulder, and starting to lose ground hand over fist during the next two circuits.
By 17km the Japanese was a distant third, with a chunk of time between Pintado and Bonfim, and a surprisingly tired looking Yamanishi now 1:02 behind. In fact, the Japanese only had five seconds spare by the finish over Wang Zhaozhao with Quan Haifeng fifth.
Apart from Pintado, it was very much China’s day.
Paul Warburton for World Athletics
1 Yang Jiayu (CHN) 1:29:10
2 Qieyang Shijie (CHN) 1:29:11
3 Yang Liujing (CHN) 1:29:30
4 Kimberly Garcia (PER) 1:29:31
5 Ma Zhenxia (CHN) 1:29:36
6 Erica Sena (BRA) 1:29:48
7 Ana Cabecinha (POR) 1:29:55
8 Viviane Lyra (BRA) 1:30:57
1 Brian Pintado (ECU) 1:19:05
2 Caio Bonfim (BRA) 1:19:46
3 Toshikazu Yamanishi (JPN) 1:20:58
4 Wang Zhaozhao (CHN) 1:21:04
5 Qian Haifeng (CHN) 1:21:21
6 Wang Qin (CHN) 1:21:38
7 Wang Kaihua (CHN) 1:21:58
8 Jordy Jimenez (ECU) 1:22:40