Hong Liu, Olga Kaniskina and Melanie Seeger in La Coruna (© Véronique Warburton)
He can race in any city at any time a race demands – and Valeriy Borchin still delivers – just as the Russian did again at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in La Coruna on Saturday (17).
Late afternoon shoppers in the Spanish city who stopped to linger were startled at the speed Borchin was moving in the second half of the race – and so were his competitors.
The 25-year-old moved through the gears to do all was asked of him to take first-place and $30,000 prize money. And together with the $60,000 he earned in the IAAF World Championships just over two weeks ago – his shopping bags are a lot fuller than most in world athletics right now.
The race for second saw last year’s winner Zhen Wang take home $20,000, but one had to feel for Joao Vieira 20 seconds back.
The Portuguese had gone shoulder to shoulder with Yafei Chu from China in the second half, but had to be content with fourth when a last 100-yard sprint denied him a further $5,000 for his kit bag.
You needed a sieve to sort out the first 14 at the end of lap one.
The opening kilometre in 3:56 was quick by the standards of most mortals, but this throng have god-given talents.
The plan appeared to be for the judges to have a good look at everyone without attracting itchy-trigger fingers to mobile phones being used for the first time at this level.
Officials on the course were able to send a pre-prepared text to the chief judge’s table no walker wanted to receive: an electronic DQ card.
But there is always someone who blinks first, and Jose Ignacio Diaz threw caution to the winds to make 3k in 11:50 and extend the lead by 20 more metres by the end of the next lap.
The Mexican was ineligible for the prizes anyway, and sensibly the moneymen were clearly keeping their powder dry and lapping at four-minute pace.
However, the fifth circuit saw daylight appear between the main players.
Off the back went Australian Luke Adams and out the front went Borchin.
In between, Wang gave chase closely followed by Chu, along with a slightly fluid group of five that were swapping the minor places just about every 100 metres.
The seventh tour showed why Borchin is a champion.
The watches stopped at 3:47, and Wang was clearly going to be the only one to trouble the double IAAF champion. Next time around was seven seconds quicker still for the leader, and it was all over by the bell.
The gap had grown just that bit more, and the rocking head of the Chinese showed that Wang knew it too.
Borchin wasn’t thinking about the money he had just won as he warmed down.
“It’s the victory that’s most important. This one is just as good as the rest this year,” he said.
“If you’re competing against the best, then any victory is important. It’s been a hard few weeks – but I’m glad all the hard work has been rewarded.”
Leading Results - MEN:
1 Valeriy Borchin (Russia) 38:42
2 Zhen Wang (China) 38:49
3 Yafei Chu (China) 39:06
4 Joao Vieira (Portugal) 39:09
5 Eder Sanchez (Mexico) 39:13
6 Robbie Heffernan (Ireland) 39:19
7 Isamu Fujisawa (Japan) 39:18
8 Luke Adams (Australia) 39:45
9 Ever Palma Olivares (Mexico) 39:46
10 Jared Tallent (Australia) 39:48
Women's Race -
It was getting decidedly gloomy by the time Olga Kaniskina crossed the finishing line in first place at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge final.
Dozens of flashbulbs greeted the Russian champion, and her delighted smile further illuminated the dusk in La Coruna.
One would have thought she had got used to crossing a race walk line first, but the 25-year-old sporting a new tan, looked as happy as if she had just won race number one.
Hong Liu also walked to form to take second, but Melanie Seeger leapt in the air after she finished a surprise third.
The German outsprinted Portuguese Ana Cabecinha for third to belie her poor showing at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu.
It almost needed a searchlight to pick out the rest – it had got that dark – but there was home joy for Beatriz Pascual on home soil in sixth, and the ever-consistent Susana Feitor from across the border in Portugal for fifth.
Earlier, a cautious group of 11 worked their way to 3k in around 13:20 – another moderate start for athletes of this calibre.
The one surprise was 2009 IAAF World Champion silver medallist Olive Lougnane already off the back, and clearly struggling despite the cool early evening temperature.
In fact, the organisers had obviously bargained for something a bit hotter, judging by the 7.30pm start time.
But most spectators were wearing sweaters at least, and there were even a couple of woolen scarves amongst the 10,000-plus crowd lining the 1k circuit.
It allowed the main protagonists to up the pace to a 21:56 clocking at half way, and by the next lap, the peloton had fragmented to a spearhead of three, another pair five seconds back, and a group of three about the same distance again.
Kaniskina, Seeger and Liu were pushing it now, and a 4:11 circuit on the seventh lap blew the race apart.
Only Kaniskina and Liu were in contention, with Seeger and Cabecinha still hoping for bronze.
The Chinese pushed it to 8k with a startling 3:58 lap. But right behind her was the fluid Russian, and guessing Liu was at her limit – pushed even harder.
The eventual winner was gasping like a fish out of water by now, but that was just at the sheer pace of the race at this stage.
She took the bell with a 40-metre lead, and the twinkling shop lights reflected her march to victory and the glittering prizes.
Just as happy with her $14,000 in third was Seeger.
“I knew I had it in me,” she said. “I just wanted a second chance to prove it after Daegu – and you don’t know how happy I am.”
Leading Results - WOMEN:
1 Olga Kaniskina (Russia) 42:37
2 Hong Liu (China) 42:54
3 Melanie Seeger (Germany) 43:06
4 Ana Cabecinha (Portugal) 43:12
5 Susana Feitor (Portugal) 43:37
6 Beatriz Pascual (Spain) 43:46
7 Maria-Jose Poves (Spain) 44:12
8 Ni Gao (China) 44:17
9 Ines Henriques (Portugal) 44:25
10 Olive Loughane (Ireland) 44:27
Paul Warburton for the IAAF