Liu Hong on the way to shattering the Asian 20Km record in Taicang (© Organisers)
The best Chinese walkers did not disappoint in front of their home crowd, and smashed both 20km Asian records in men and women at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Taicang on Friday morning (30). As expected, the races were fast and the expected names were on top of both races from the start.
In the men’s race walk it was the young duo Wang Zhen and Chen Ding who excelled both getting under the old Asian record 1:17:41 set by Zhu Hongjun in Cixi seven years in an earlier edition of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
20-year-old Wang, who managed a great fourth place in his first major championships, set AR 1:17:36 for the win, his second consecutive here, lowering his personal best by 54 seconds from the winning time 1:18:30 in this same race last year.
19-year-old Chen was second in 1:17:40 cutting a huge minute and 12 seconds off his previous PB 1:18:52 which took him to third place here last season. These times and the earlier accomplishments by this duo will make them clear medal favourites for the London Olympics.
For Chen it will be the first major championships, but he did finish fifth at the 2010 World Cup. Wang just missed Italy’s Alex Schwazer’s World leading time 1:17:30 and Wang and Chen now accommodate places two and three in the 2012 World lists behind Schwazer.
As expected, the Olympic Trials winner Cai Zelin also did well finishing in third place with a big personal best 1:18:47. The 20-year-old had set a personal best 1:19:42 winning the Olympic Trials in Huaian in February and now dropped almost a minute from that time.
Italian Giorgio Rubino was the best non-Chinese in the competition finishing in fourth place in 1:20:10, his best time since 2009. The 25-year-old Italian is surely looking forward to the Olympics too and has some good experience from major championships having finished in fourth place at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and in fifth place two years earlier in Osaka.
Australian Jared Tallent, a medallist from both 20km and 50km walks in Beijing four years ago, was fifth in a 1:20:34 season’s best and German Christopher Linke produced a personal best 1:20:41 for the sixth place.
China sweeps women's race too
In the women’s race it was finally time to wipe out the 1:26:22 Wang Yan’s Asian record, which had stood for more than ten years since November 2001. It seems that 24-year-old Liu Hong is finally able to challenge Russian Olga Kaniskina this season having been quite close on a couple of occasions at the World Championships. With Kaniskina winning, Liu won the silver medal in Daegu last year and was third in Berlin two years before that.
In today’s race Liu was again in her own class setting a fast 1:25:46 Asian record for her second win in a row in this race. Her previous 1:27:17 had come in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics where she narrowly missed a medal in fourth place and she also equalled this PB last year here winning with the exact same time. Liu missed Russian Elmira Alembekova’s World leading time 1:25:27 by just 19 seconds and is now second in the 2012 world list.
Although Liu should still have many years left at the top, there is already the next generation of Chinese walkers rising. 18-year-old Lu Xiuzhi did walk 1:29:50, so it was no surprise she did well here, but to finish in second place in a huge personal best and Asian junior record 1:27:01 still must be a bit of a surprise. It remains to be seen how she will do in London, as the youngster has no experience from major championships, not even from juniors and has only once competed outside China, in Dublin last summer.
China did a 1-2-3 in the women’s race as well with 21-year-old Qieyang Shenjie setting a personal best 1:27:04 for the third place. Qieyang bettered her earlier PB by exactly one minute and will be a player in London as she already did well in Daegu finishing in fifth place there last summer.
Another Chinese Gao Ni was fourth in a personal best 1:28:06 and Australian Claire Tallent emerged as the best athlete outside China for fifth place in a good 1:28:53 personal best. The 30-year-old bettered her previous best 1:32:02 from 2010 significantly by more than three minutes. Sun Huanhuan of China was sixth in 1:30:21 season’s best and another Australian Tanya Holliday also set a PB 1:33:15 for the seventh place. Two major names, German Melanie Seeger and Russian Tatyana Sibileva were disqualified.
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF
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