Liu Hong on her way to winning the Rio Maior International Race Walking Grand Prix (© Marcelino Almeida)
Warm and windy conditions affected some of the race walkers at the Rio Maior International Race Walking Grand Prix but Liu Hong and Eider Arevalo won with relative ease over 20km at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting on Saturday (18).
After seeing her Chinese compatriot and Olympic bronze medallist Qieyang Shenjie withdraw after five kilometres, Liu pushed on alongside Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi. The pair continued to lead until 9km when Liu then forced the pace to find she was alone at the front.
Liu, who has won medals at the past three World Championships, forged ahead to the finish line to win in a season’s best of 1:27:22, just three seconds shy of the course record set 10 years ago.
“I expected to win this race in a good time,” said 2014 challenge winner Liu after becoming just the second non-European winner of the women’s race in Rio Maior. “I have a dream and I work every day to achieve it: winning the IAAF World Championship in Beijing. But first I have other races in the Race Walking Challenge.”
Giorgio finished almost a minute behind in second place, clocking 1:28:12, almost a minute and a half adrift of the Italian record she set last month in Dudince.
Another Italian, 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Elisa Rigaudo, came from behind in the closing stages to overtake the leading Portuguese race walkers Ana Cabecinha and Ines Henriques to make it on to the podium. Competing in her first race since finishing fifth at the 2013 World Championships, Rigaudo clocked 1:29:15.
With the help of the local crowd, both Cabecinha and Henriques took less than 90 minutes to complete the course. As the top Portuguese finisher, Cabecinha won the national title in 1:29:17 with home-town star Henriques one place behind in 1:29:52.
Cabecinha was surprised by her performance, having suffered with a cold all week and feeling as though she may have to withdraw from the race.
Behind them, Lithuanian record-holder Neringa Aidietyte clocked a season’s best of 1:30:40 to defeat Spanish champion Julia Takacs and Central American record-holder Mirna Ortiz.
Arevalo starts 2015 as he means to go on
For each of the past four years, Eider Arevalo has won his first race of the season. The Colombian record-holder continued that trend in Rio Maior, triumphing over one of the most competitive fields he has faced outside of major championships.
Italy’s Giorgio Rubino shot into an early lead and at one point was more than 50 metres ahead of the rest of the field. But once he was caught, the race only came alive again during the final three laps.
Arevalo, the 2012 world junior champion pushed the pace and gradually opened up an advantage, maintaining it to the finish to win in 1:20:53.
But the real drama was unfolding behind him. In a ‘sprint’ finish, Olympic silver medallist Erick Barrondo and European 50km silver medallist Matej Toth initially finished second and third, but both athletes were later disqualified for lifting in their last-gasp dash for the line.
Ecuador's Andres Chocho was later declared the runner-up in 1:20:24, replicating his position from the IAAF Race Walk Challenge meetings in Dudince and Chihuahua last month.
Last year’s winner Caio Bonfim produced a season’s best and his second-best time ever of 1:21:16, but despite it being almost two minutes quicker than his winning time from 2014, on this occasion it was only good enough for third place.
Bertrand Moulinet finished fourth with 1:21:22, 15 seconds in front of World Race Walking Cup winner Ruslan Dmytrenko. The Ukrainian, who won last year’s World Race Walking Challenge, was contesting his first race of 2015. Early leader Rubino eventually finished sixth.
“This is the result of hard work,” said Arevalo, who was disqualified at the 2014 World Race Walking Cup and did not finish at the 2013 World Championships. “I’ve trained a lot to be here and win. I felt good during the race and produced a good performance.”
Antonio Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF
1 Eider Arevalo (COL) 1:20:53
2 Andres Chocho (ECU) 1:21:08
3 Caio Bonfim (BRA) 1:21:16
4 Bertrand Moulinet (FRA) 1:21:22
5 Ruslan Dmytrenko (UKR) 1:21:37
6 Giorgio Rubino (ITA) 1:21:50
7 Igor Hlavan (UKR) 1:22:10
8 Marco de Luca (ITA) 1:22:25
9 Richard Vargas (VEN) 1:22:36
10 Manish Rawat (IND) 1:23:02
1 Liu Hong (CHN) 1:27:22
2 Eleonora Giorgio (ITA) 1:28:12
3 Elisa Rigaudo (ITA) 1:29:15
4 Ana Cabecinha (POR) 1:29:17
5 Ines Henriques (POR) 1:29:52
6 Neringa Aidietyte (LTU) 1:30:40
7 Julia Takacs (ESP) 1:31:23
8 Mirna Ortiz (GUA) 1:31:25
9 Vera Santos (POR) 1:31:42
10 Ainhoa Pinedo (ESP) 1:31:58