Lu Xiuzhi en route to her 20km victory in Taicang (© Ji Chunpeng)
World silver medallist Lu Xiuzhi lived up to expectations as she led a Chinese podium sweep in the women’s 20km race at the 2017 IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting in Taicang on Saturday (15).
Brazil’s 20km record-holder Caio Bonfim won the men’s race which saw the withdrawal of several local elite race walkers.
The races were staged under sunny and hot conditions with the temperature soaring over 20C after the start of the women’s race at 8:00am. The 23-year-old Lu, who was the fastest woman on paper with a personal best of 1:25:12, stayed in the leading pack together with her two teammates Wang Na and Yang Jiayu as well as Brazilian record-holder Erica de Sena for most of the race before charging off for the win some 500 metres before the finish.
Thanks to her powerful home stretch display, the vastly experienced Lu registered a winning time of 1:31:01, edging out Yang by just three seconds. Wang finished third in 1:31:09 while De Sena took fourth in 1:31:31.
Despite competing in a pair of new shoes that rubbed the skin off her heels, Lu was satisfied with her victory.
“I started to feel the pain after two kilometre, and had to walk with it in the following 18,” said the world silver medallist. “It really hurt a lot but in the last kilometres, I managed to ignore the pain and only focus on the race.”
“To be honest, I am not in my best form and I had not specially prepared for this race either. So I just followed my own rhythm and tried to walk to my normal level,” Lu added.
It is the second victory for Lu in 2017, following her world-leading 1:26:28 performance set when winning the Chinese National Grand Prix in Huangshang last month. Now, she has already set her eyes on the IAAF World Championship London 2017 as well as the Chinese National Games, a quadrennial multi-sport competition with great importance for most Chinese athletes.
“There are only three weeks between the two competitions. I will have to deal with the jet lag after returning from London and my physical conditions may also be a problem, ” said Lu, who is the defending National Games 20km champion.
Unlike the women’s event that saw pre-race favorite take the win as expected, the men’s 20km race was wide-open following a series of withdrawals by Chinese elite walkers.
Bonfim holds off Salazar
Olympic champion Wang Zhen and silver medalist Cai Zelin both decided to skip the race. Meanwhile, both the 2012 Olympic gold medalist Chen Ding and the in-form world leader Wang Kaihua only entered the Chinese National Grand Prix that was jointly held with the Challenge event in Taicang.
As a result, the Chinese team had to field the 38-year-old veteran Han Yucheng and relatively inexperienced Luo Yadong and Li Peng to compete in the Challenge race.
The 26-year-old Bonfim, who set his PB of 1:19:42 en route to his fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics last year, held off Mexico’s Julio Cesar Salazar to win in 1:22:16. Salazar finished 42 seconds adrift.
South Africa’s Lebogang Shange finished third in 1:23:45. It was the second time Shange earned a podium finish at a challenge meet this season, following his second-place finish at the Oceania 20km Race Walk Championships in Adelaide in 1:21:00.
The overall winner of the men’s race was China’s Wang Rui, who clocked 1:21:58 but he was only entered in the National Grand Prix team event.
Neither Chen nor Kaihua managed to find their best form, as Kaihua finished fifth in 1:25:04 in the Grand Prix individual race and Chen clocked a sluggish 1:27:16 to finish 17th.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF