La Coruna women's podium: runner-up Beatriz Pascual (ESP), winner Liu Hong (CHN) and Maria Vasco (ESP) who was third (La Coruna organisers) © Copyright
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Li Jianbo and Hong Liu nab La Coruña titles – IAAF Race Walking Challenge

China’s Li Jianbo and Hong Liu captured their respective 20Km victories to highlight the "26th Gran Premio Cantones de Marcha" – the Spanish leg in the 2012 IAAF Race Walking Challenge held Saturday (9) on a cloudy and ideal day for Race Walking.

While the 25-year-old Jianbo’s victory came by surprise and by barely five seconds, Liu killed the race from the early stages to easily confirm her supremacy. For the delight of the home crowd assembled there were no less than three Spaniards on the podium overall.

Men’s race – Wang DNF but China reigns thanks to Jianbo

Over the 1km-long flat circuit, the men’s contest opened quite fast thanks to the early pace set by the strongest walker in the line-up, China’s Zhen Wang, fresh from a commanding win at the World Cup in Saransk. Wang pulled away with ease inside the second kilometre to build a clear led by the 5000-metre point.

By halfway, the chasing pack was formed by no fewer than ten men although the Chinese pair of Wei Yu and Li Jianbo, Italy’s Giorgio Rubino and Spain’s Miguel Ángel López were doing most of the pacing work.

The big surprise came in the 14th kilometre when Wang dropped out. Such was his advantage by then – over one minute – that his chasers realized they became the leaders only when the announcer provided that information.

Jianbo’s front walking paid finally dividends with some 3000 metres to go when he changed gear to leave the others behind; while Rubino lost any chance of winning soon Wei and López fought hard over the closing kilometres. At the finish line Jianbo was timed 1:20:55 to López’s 1:20:59, a career best for him, who managed to get rid of Wei inside the last kilometre.

"It’s my first 20km Walk Race this season and this win means an enormous morale booster for the Olympic Games," the victor said. "I’ll now go straight to the Olympics, no more races until then."

As for the 2009 European U-23 champion López, he took the Spanish title at stake, lowered his best ever performance by 42 seconds although "the most remarkable achievement today has been to place second at an IAAF meeting," he said. The 24-year-old added: "It would be great to be on the top-ten at the Olympics."

Liu impresses, Pascual surprises

In contrast to the men’s event, the women’s race had no drama to find the identity of the winner as the in-form Chinese Hong Liu proved to be in stellar fitness. In addition, she had the help provided by her compatriots Huiquin Ding and Huanhuan Sun, who made the early pace.

Spain’s María Vasco was the Chinese trio’s closest pursuer and she overtook Ding before halfway and Sun some 11km into the race. Liu’s margin over the experienced Vasco was not particularly broad (10 seconds) but the Spaniard began to fade with 5000 metres left and it became clear then that Liu would be the eventual winner barring disaster.

The attention turned to the other podium places where Spain’s Beatriz Pascual – a brilliant victor in La Coruña a couple of years ago – travelled in fifth inside the closing quarter of the competition but she first passed Germany’s Sabine Krantz, later Pascual overtook her fellow Spaniard Julia Takacs to finally catch Vasco to take second well behind Liu (1:27:32 and 1.29:53 their respective times). The 2000 Olympics bronze medallist completed a classy podium 12 seconds behind Pascual but 32 seconds clear of the Hungarian-born Takacs.

While Liu’s top spot was highly likely, Pascual’s runner-up place became a surprise even for herself as she explained: "After the World Cup I relaxed my training regime to peak again for the Olympics and so I faced today’s race with little quality work. I kicked off cautiously but then I felt increasingly stronger and my second half was great. I now plan a training camp in the altitude of Font-Romeu before travelling to London where I would like to better my 6th place from Beijing Olympics," confirmed a delighted Pascual.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF


Men -
1. Li Jianbo (China) 1h20:55
2. Miguel Ángel López (Spain) 1h20:59
3. Yu Wei (China) 1h21:04
4. Giorgio Rubino (Italy) 1h21:30
5. Matteo Guiponni (Italy) 1h22:07
6. Si Tianfeng (China) 1h23:14
7. Pedro Daniel Cruz (Mexico) 1h23:21
8. Kevin Campion (Francia) 1h23:29
9. Luis Fernando López (Colombia) 1h23:41
10. Caio Sena (Brasil) 1h23:29

Women -
1. Liu Hong (China) 1h27:32
2. Beatriz Pascual (Spain) 1h29:53
3. María Vasco (Spain) 1h30:05
4. Julia Takacs (Spain) 1h30:37
5. Sabine Krantz (Spain) 1h30:57
6. Eleonora Giorgi (Italy) 1h31:18
7. Laura Reynolds (Ireland) 1h32:34
8. Sandra Arenas (Colombia) 1h32:36
9. Sandra Galvis (Colombia) 1h33:24
10. María José Poves (Spain) 1h34:45