Liu Hong breaking the 20km race walk world record in La Coruna (© Organisers)
Miguel Angel Lopez and Liu Hong will race over the distances at which they won their world titles in Beijing last summer at the XXX Gran Premio Cantones de La Coruna 2016, the Spanish leg of this year’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge, on Saturday (28).
The 30th edition of the meeting that started in 1987, at a venue which subsequently staged 2006 IAAF World Race Walking Cup, will see the entire men’s 20km podium from IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships three weeks ago re-united on the start line in the city that nestles on Spain’s north west Atlantic coast.
China’s squad includes Olympic bronze medallist Wang Zhen – the 2015 winner in La Coruna in 1:18:00 – and 2014 World Race Walking Cup silver medallist Cai Zelin. Both race walkers are in their best shape, as they proved at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships in Rome when they managed a one-two for China in 1:19:22 and 1:19:34 respectively.
Surprisingly on that occasion, the first Spaniard home was not Lopez but Alvaro Martin, who grabbed the third spot individually in big career best of 1:19:36.
Martin is currently enjoying the season of his life as he also took an emphatic victory at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge event across the border in Rio Maior, Portugal, last month.
As for Lopez, he had to settle for a modest 33rd place in Rome. “Unlike last year, when my build-up for Beijing was perfect, I have had several setbacks and injuries this year, so I’m still rounding into form," said the 27-year-old Spaniard. "After Rome, my training has gone well and my form has improved but I consider Zhen as the hot favourite as he is in top shape and is also the defending champion (in La Coruna).”
Other notable entrants include Brazil’s Caio Bonfim, a creditable eighth in Rome in a personal best of 1:20:20 who came third in La Coruna two years ago.
Two top 50km race walk specialists should also be in contention: Australia’s Olympic champion and 2013 La Coruna winner Jarred Tallent and Ukraine’s Igor Glavan, who was third in the longer event in Rome, one place behind Tallent.
A powerful Mexican squad is represented by Pedro Daniel Gomez, Julio Cesar Salazar and Isaac Palma, all of them having gone faster than 1:21:00 this year.
Colombia have sent 2012 world junior champion Eider Arevalo and 2011 world champion Luis Fernando Lopez and both should be eager to bounce back in style after they failed to finish in Rome.
Liu back on world record circuit
Following her victories in 2012, 2014 and 2015, Liu Hong will start the women’s 20km event as the undisputed favourite.
The 29-year-old Chinese shattered the world record last year when she crossed the line in 1:24:38.
Liu remains unbeaten so far this season and won in Rome in 1:25:59. She will be accompanied by her compatriot Qieyang Shenjie, who finished second behind Liu in Rome after winning last month in Rio Maior.
Italy’s evergreen Elisa Rigaudo, the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, and her compatriot Eleonora Giorgi, the winner at the IAAF Race Walk Challenge meeting in the Slovakian town of Dudince in March, lead the European challenge.
There will also be another four race walkers who have gone below 90 minutes this season: Portugal’s 2013 La Coruna winner Ines Henriques, Spain’s Raquel Gonzalez, Mexico’s Alejandra Ortega and Guatemala’s Mirna Ortiz.
Weather forecasters are predicting rain showers with temperatures in the 14-16C range by the time of the races in the early evening, and a light wind.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF