China's Wang Zhen celebrates his victory in the 20km at the 2012 IAAF World Race Walking Cup (© Getty Images)
China has only once before hosted the IAAF World Race Walking Cup. At the 1995 edition in Beijing, the host nation won gold in every discipline, doubling their all-time gold medal count at the event in one fell swoop.
With just under one month to go to this year’s World Race Walking Cup in Taicang, Chinese athletes are once again hoping to dominate in front of their home supporters.
For a long time China has been one of the leading race-walking nations, but they have continued to break new ground in each of the past few seasons as their strength in depth increases.
Up until just two years ago, no Chinese man had ever won an senior global championships medal in a race walking event. And then, like waiting for a bus, three came along at once.
One day short of his 20th birthday, Chen Ding became the youngest ever men’s race walking champion at the Olympic Games, winning the 20km.
Wang Zhen took bronze in that race, while Si Tianfeng earned the bronze medal in the 50km. In the women’s 20km, Qieyang Shenjie added another bronze medal to the tally, China’s first Olympic medal in a women’s race walking event for 12 years.
It meant that of the nine race walking medals on offer in London, China won four of them.
Their success continued in 2013 too as Chen took the silver medal at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow and Liu Hong took bronze in the women’s 20km, her third successive World Championships medal after silver in 2011 and bronze in 2009.
As ever at the World Race Walking Cup, China’s main competition will be Russia. Hosts four years ago in Saransk, Russia had hoped to emulate what the Chinese athletes achieved 17 years prior by winning every race. They came close to achieving that too, as Sergey Kirdyapkin won the 50km event and Elena Lashmanova took the women’s 20km race, but they came up short in the men’s 20km.
That gold, instead, went to China.
Wang triumphed ahead of Russian duo Andrey Krivov and Vladimir Kanaykin. It was the second successive medal for China in that event as Wang Hao had won two years prior in Chihuahua.
It also extended Russia’s gold medal drought in that event; the last time they won the men’s 20km at the World Race Walking Cup was back in 1991 with Mikhail Shchennikov competing under the flag of the Soviet Union.
Most of China’s Olympic heroes from 2012 have not competed this year, but even if the likes of Chen, Wang and Qieyang aren’t selected for Taicang next month, the host team will still be a strong one.
Wang Zhendong recently improved his 50km PB by more than 10 minutes to finish second in Dudince, while world bronze medallist Liu set a world-leading time of 1:27:25 in the women’s 20km last month in Lugano.
To date, China remains the only country to have won all three senior individual titles at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup. Whether they will repeat their 1995 feat in Taicang remains to be seen; all will be revealed next month.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF