Spain's Miguel Angel Lopez on his way to winning the 20km race walk (© Getty Images)
World champion Miguel Angel Lopez will face four of the 10 fastest race walkers this year when he competes at the Gran Premio Cantones de La Coruña, the Spanish leg of this year’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge, on Saturday (3).
After a hesitant start of the season, Lopez produced a convincing performance three weeks ago at the European Cup in Podebrady where he finished runner-up in a season’s best of 1:20:21, his fastest time since 2015, to show he is on the right path to defending his world title in London in two months’ time.
But the 28-year-old will face a strong challenge from the powerful Japanese trio of Eiki Takahashi, Toshikazu Yamanishi and Kai Kobayashi. Takahashi is the second-fastest man in the world this season after setting a massive PB of 1:18:23 to win the national title in Kobe. Yamanishi and Kobayashi finished third and fourth on that occasion with respective times of 1:19:03 and 1:19:13.
Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom, Brazil’s Caio Bonfim and China’s Wang Rui should also be in the hunt for the top places. The latter is a rising race walker who improved his PB by exactly two minutes with a 1:19:23 effort for third in Huangshan in March. He then showed good form in Taicang the following month when he won in 1:21:58.
China’s squad also includes Olympic 50km fifth-place finisher Yu Wei, who clocked 1:22:22 to finish fourth in Lugano in March but failed to finish at his specialist event in Taicang one month later.
Bonfim produced a lifetime best of 1:19:42 at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games but just missed out on a medal and had to settle for fourth place in front of his home crowd. The 26-year-old Brazilian won in Taicang in April in 1:22:16, but finished a distant 30th at the Pan-American Cup in Lima one month later. This weekend’s race will be Bonfim’s sixth 20km contest of the year.
Karlstrom showed fine form in Podebrady where the 27-year-old Swede joined Lopez on the podium by taking third in 1:20:40, 89 seconds shy of his PB of 1:19:11 set in the same Czech city last season.
Lopez, who is also the European champion for the distance, will also have a strong local challenge in the guise of European under-23 silver medallist Alvaro Martin, Luis Alberto Amezcua and Diego Garcia.
Martin and Amezcua clearly defeated Lopez at the Spanish 20km Championships in Merida in March while European junior champion Garcia finished a creditable seventh in Podebrady.
Watch out too for Mexico’s 1:19:20 man Omar Pineda and Ecuador’s Andres Chocho, now a 50km specialist.
Wang aims to maintain Chinese dominance
In the absence of China’s world and Olympic champion Liu Hong, a four-time winner in La Coruna, the women’s contest appears wide open.
Wang Yingliu of China is the quickest woman this year among Saturday’s entrants thanks to her 1:28:15 performance in Huangshan.
Wang’s main rivals should be Portugal’s Ana Cabecinha and Spain’s Laura García-Caro. The 32-year-old Portuguese is a consistent performer at major championships, having managed top-eight places over the past three Olympic Games, three World Championships and two European Championships. Cabecinha finished second in Podebrady in a season’s best of 1:29:44, just ahead of 22-year-old García-Caro (1:29:57) who will line up alongside compatriot María Pérez, who finished sixth in Podebrady in a PB of 1:30:52.
Olympic seventh-place finisher Erica de Sena should also be a factor this weekend. The Brazilian’s best mark this year is 1:30:49, but last year she recorded four sub-90-minute performances, topped by a 1:27:18 effort in Rome.
The course records belong to the Chinese pair of Wang Zhen, who clocked 1:18:00 in 2015, and Liu Hong, who set the current world record of 1:24:38 two years ago here.
Weather forecasters are predicting a sunny day with a light breeze and temperatures in the 15-17C range by the time of the contest in the early evening.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF