Australian race walker Jared Tallent (© Getty Images)
Jared Tallent will have all his options open as he pursues a gold medal at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing this summer after producing a dominant display to win round one of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Adelaide, Australian on Sunday morning (22).
Capitalising on the late withdrawal of fellow Australian Dane Bird-Smith, who was ill, and making light of the sweltering conditions, Tallent led from start to finish to win over 10 two-kilometre loops in 1:24:05.
New Zealand’s Quentin Rew was second in 1:25:22 and Australia’s Chris Erickson third in 1:25:42.
The win virtually ensures Tallent will be selected for the Beijing team at 20km – he and Erickson have already been selected for 50km – which would give him two chances of completing the one achievement so far to elude him: a gold medal at a major championship.
Since breaking through at international level with two medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, bronze in the 20km and silver in the 50km, Tallent has gone on to win a medal at every global championship since with the sole exception of the 2009 World Championships.
He is determined to complete the circle with a gold medal on his return to the Chinese capital this August.
“I definitely want to double in Beijing," he said. "I had a lot of success there in 2008 and it would be amazing to replicate that. I believe that I always walk better in the 50km event if I’ve had the chance to race the 20km earlier in the program.
“There’s a bit of work to do before then. I’ve got a couple of races on the cards in Mexico and Japan, and some time at the altitude house at the Australian Institute of Sport as well. I’m looking forward to it all.”
The weather was undoubtedly a factor in the Adelaide race.
The South Australian capital is in the grip of a heat-wave with a minimum overnight temperature of 26 degrees Celsius soaring quickly into the high 30s.
At least Tallent was acclimatised. Right at home, in fact.
“I only live about five kilometres from where we are today so it was great to get up at my leisure and come down to race in front of a good group of family and friends. It’s nice to perform well in front of them,” he added.
Bird-Smith is also virtually certain of selection for Beijing on the basis of his 14th place over 20km at last year’s IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Taicang.
Tallent said his rival’s withdrawal caused some change in his thinking.
“My intention was to walk alongside Dane but unfortunately due to sickness he wasn’t able to race today. I thought I would start a bit quicker and see if I was strong enough to hold off the other guys and I was able to do that, so it’s a good result.”
The challenge races also doubled as the Oceania and Australian Race Walking Championships.
Jared Tallent took his seventh national title, resuming ‘normal service’ after he lost to Bird-Smith in Hobart last year when he was disqualified, learning of his ‘DQ’ only after crossing the line in first place.
The women’s 20km in Adelaide was a much more hard-fought affair, with the eventual winner Tanya Holliday sharing the front position for much of the race before winning in 1:34:05.
Beki Smith was second in 1:34:35 and Rachel Tallent, Jared’s younger sister, third in 1:35:03 to complete an all-Australian podium.
The women’s race went through the half-way point in 46:23 with Holliday moving into the outright lead shortly before the 16km mark. She extended a narrow lead at the bell to 30 seconds at the finish line.
Holliday’s win at home in Adelaide is her first since taking the Australian leg of the 2013 challenge in Hobart. Like Jared Tallent, she is now in the best position for selection for Beijing.
The 26-year-old went to the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow two years ago but finished 45th and admitted to being a little overwhelmed by the experience.
“I got a bit caught up in the atmosphere of it all,” Holliday said in Adelaide. “This year I expect to do it very differently. I’m moving to Canberra this week to train under (2007 50km world champion Nathan Deakes’ coach) Craig Hilliard and I’m keen for the challenge and the opportunity to compete for Australia again.”
Len Johnson for the IAAF