Liu Hong winning in Erdos (© Organisers)
A mouth-watering line-up has been assembled at the Gran Premio Cantones de Marcha – the Spanish leg of the 2015 IAAF Race Walking Challenge – on Saturday (6) in La Coruna, a city which has annually hosted this world-class competition since 1987.
Men and women will compete in the 20km race walk in the north-west Spanish coastal city which hosted the 2006 IAAF World Race Walking Cup and the 2011 IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final.
Local hope Lopez aims to beat the Asian armada
The 86-man event offers such a classy field that no fewer than seven race walkers of the top 12 from this year’s world list will be in contention.
The Chinese squad includes Olympic champion Chen Ding, Olympic bronze medallist Wang Zhen and IAAF Race Walking World Cup silver medallist Cai Zelin, who finished fourth at the 2012 Olympics.
Chen is fresh from a commanding win at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting in Taicang in a season’s best of 1:19.53, while Wang remains unbeaten so far in 2015 having set a world lead of 38:23.73 for the 10,000m event on the track in Geneva in addition to a 20km effort of 1:19:29 in Beijing to win the World Championships trials.
Meanwhile, the 2010 world junior silver medallist Cai took second there to secure a spot on the Chinese team for the IAAF World Championships in August but failed to finish in his only other 20km outing this season in Rio Maior in April.
Eiki Takahashi, Isamu Fujisawa, Kai Kobayashi and Satoshi Maruo form a quality Japanese contingent. Takahashi, who finished runner-up in La Coruna last year, set a big PB of 1:18:03 in February to win the national title, beating world record-holder Yusuke Suzuki.
Fujisawa, fifth in La Coruna last year, was disqualified at the National Championships in Kobe but bounced back with a 1:19:08 career best in Nomi one month later.
Kobayashi finished just behind Fujisawa in Nomi (1:19:12) but had to settle for a relatively modest time of 1:23:43 in his last competition in Taicang in May where he was well beaten by Maruo, holder of a 1:19:42 PB in Nomi.
Local star Miguel Angel Lopez should be a factor and will be looking for his first success in La Coruna after coming second in 2012. The European champion was also victorious three weeks ago at the European Cup held in his native Murcia where the 26-year-old triumphed in 1:19:52, just 31 seconds off his career best of 1:19.21.
Lopez has shown an interesting consistency this season as he had recorded another 1:19:52 clocking two months before at the Spanish Championships in Renteria.
Lopez will be competing in the company of Alvaro Martín, the European junior bronze medallist. He has improved non-stop after that success to lower his career best of 1:20:19 in Renteria.
Watch out too for Caio Bonfim, who finished a surprising third last year. The 24-year-old Brazilian has had no fewer than eight appearances this year over the distance, topped by a 1:21:04 performance to finish third in Rio Maior.
Another dangerous outsider could be Ecuador’s Andres Chocho, who set a career best of 1:20:56 to take the runner-up spot in Rio Maior. The Ecuadorian currently leads this season’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge overall standings with 20 points.
Liu looking for a hat trick of victories
Following her victories in 2012 and 2014, China’s world bronze medallist Liu Hong will start the women’s 20km event as favourite. In addition to her two wins in La Coruna, the 28-year-old is performing solidly this year and has a season’s best of 1:27:22 from her victory in Rio Maior.
But she won’t be the only top Chinese race walker in La Coruna. Olympic bronze medallist Qieyang Shenjie, who has a season’s best of 1:28:37, will be looking to bounce back after failing to finish in Rio Maior two months ago.
The Chinese tandem will take on a strong Portuguese squad comprising Ana Cabecinha, Ines Henriques, Vera Santos and the evergreen Susana Feitor. Cabecinha is fresh from a season’s best of 1:28:28 for ninth at the European Cup in Murcia where her compatriots finished narrowly outside the top 10.
Local hopes will rest on 20-year-old Laura Garcia-Caro who set a massive PB of 1:29:32 in Murcia for 10th while her fellow Spaniard Raquel Gonzalez also dipped under the 1:30 barrier there and will be eyeing a top-five place on Saturday.
Former European under-23 silver medallist Julia Takacs, runner-up here two years ago, should be eager to take revenge from her disqualification in Murcia and will also be in the quest for a podium place.
Not to be discounted for the honour places are Brazil’s South American record-holder Erica de Sena and Asian champion Kumiko Okada of Japan.
Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi appears a solid leader in this season’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge overall standings with a 27-point tally. Neither the Italian nor the second-placed Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez of Mexico (18 points) are entered in La Coruna, so the Mexican could be overtaken by Erica de Sena, who currently holds third place with 17 points.
Weather forecasters predict a partially cloudy day with temperatures in the 16-18C range by the time of the competition and some gusts of strong (30km/h) wind.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF