Liu Hong wins at the Lugano Trophy (© Giancarlo Colombo)
Ukraine’s Ruslan Dmytrenko and China’s Liu Hong claimed wins at the Lugano Trophy – 12th Memorial Mario Albisetti 2014, an IAAF Race Walking Challenge event, held on a sunny and warm morning in the picturesque Swiss lakeside town of Lugano on Sunday (16).
Japan’s Takumi Saito took the lead during the first five kilometres of the men’s 20km race race but the eight-strong chasing group – Dmytrenko, the Chinese pair of Cai Zelin and Wei Chu, Slovakia’s Matej Toth, Australia’s Jarred Tallent, Ireland's world 50km race walk champion Robert Heffernan, Japan’s Daisuke Matsunaga and Poland’s Dawid Tomala – caught Sato at 5km, which they reached in 20:20.
The eight-man leading pack went through 10km in 40:30 before Chu and Tomala started to struggle in the next kilometre and drifted off the back of the group.
Tallent, a triple Olympic medallist, tried to force the pace at 15km, which was passed in 1:00:46, but Dmytrenko and Cai jointly responded and surged away, opening up a gap of 10 seconds at 17km (1:08:32).
The pair then embarked on a head-to-head duel in the next two kilometres before Dmytrenko, fourth in the 20km at the 2012 IAAF World Race Walking Cup, edged ahead at 19km.
Dmyrenko crossed the finish line in 1:20:08, improving his personal best by nine seconds.
Cai finished second in 1:20:31, beating Toth by 11 seconds. The Slovak former World Cup winner will compete in the 20km event at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Taicang, China, on 3-4 May and then in the 50km at the European Championships in Zurich this summer.
Tallent took fourth place in 1:20:55, coming home two seconds ahead of Heffernan.
“I am very happy with my personal best on a nice course. I enjoyed walking in sunny weather conditions,” said Dmytrenko.
Liu walks away with another Lugano win
Liu Hong, a medallist at the past three IAAF World Championships, edged young Italian rising star Eleonora Giorgi by just four seconds in the women's race to win in 1:27:25.
The Czech rising star Anezka Drahotova, the 2013 European junior 10,000m champion on the track and seventh in the 20km at the World Championships, drove a leading pack of Liu, Giorgi, Poland’s Agniewska Dygasz and Ukraine’s Lyudmila Olyanovska for the first 10km, the five women going through halfway in 44:14.
The group was then whittled down to just three women when Drahotova, Liu and Giorgi surged, increased their pace and went through 15km in 1:05:55.
Liu and Giorgi broke away at 18km, quickly carving out a five-second gap over the Czech teenager and increased their gap to 20 seconds as they heard the bell for the final one kilometre lap.
The Chinese star launched her kick in the final part of the race to claim her third win in Lugano with 1:27:25.
“It was a very competitive race against two very strong athletes. I am happy because I started my training only 40 days ago after recovering from a stress fracture. I am happy to win my third race here in Lugano," said Liu.
Giorgi crowned the best race of her young career with 1:27:29, improving her previous best time of 1:29:48 by more than two minutes, and was just 20 seconds short of Elisabetta Perrone’s national record.
“I am used to walking in the chasing group. Today, I wanted to walk at the front and this change of tactic gave me a great feeling. I was thrilled to hear the fans supporting me along the course,” said Giorgi.
“I tried to keep the pace with Liu Hong and I managed to stay with her until the final 200 metres. I improved my personal best for the 10km twice clocking 44:14 in the first half and 43:15 in the second part of the race. I need just two more exams to get my degree at the University. It is not easy to combine study and sport but I manage to do both successfully. My goals are the World Cup in Taicang and the European Championships. My performance today makes me dream (of a medal) but I am aware that I have a lot of work to do.
“My race in Zurich is scheduled on 14th August. Fourteen is my favourite number as I was born on 14th September 1989 and I finished 14th at the Olympic Games in London,” she added.
Drahotova hung on to finish third and improved her own national record, set in Moscow, by almost a minute to 1:28:13.
Dygasz and Olyanovska finished fourth and fifth in 1:29:08 and 1:29:26 respectively, with both women going under 1:30 for the first times in their careers.
One small surprise was that Guatemala’s Mirna Ortiz, the area record-holder with 1:28:31 from last year, didn’t feature in the sharp end of the race and came home eighth in 1:32:21.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF