Australian race walker Jared Tallent in action in Taicang (© Getty Images)
Olympic champion Jared Tallent is aiming for his first victory at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting in Taicang while China’s Sun Huanhuan will be looking to regain her title in the Chinese city on 23 April.
Tallent will be competing in Taicang for the sixth consecutive year, having finished fourth in 2011, fifth in 2012, third in 2013, third at the World Cup here in 2014, and 18th in 2015. But in the absence of Olympic champion Chen Ding, two-time world silver medallist Wang Zhen and World Cup silver medallist Cai Zelin – all of whom are preparing for the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Rome 2016 – this could be Tallent’s best chance yet of victory.
The world silver medallist has a 20km PB of 1:19:15 set back in 2010, while his last sub-1:20 clocking came in Taicang in 2011. But the 50km specialist should still be competitive over the shorter distance.
Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom is another man to watch on Saturday. The 25-year-old set a national record of 1:19:11, the fourth-fastest time in 2016, to win in Podebrady earlier this month, smashing his previous PB of 1:21:03 which was set at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting in Adelaide in February.
Mexico’s 21-year-old Jesus Tadeo Vega has also been in PB form this season, clocking 1:19:20 to finish fourth in Podebrady.
His compatriot Eder Sanchez, the 2009 world silver medallist, is the fastest man on paper with his PB of 1:18:34 from 2008, but his best performance in 2016 is 1:24:15, set when finished 10th at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting in Rio Maior two weeks ago.
Sun Chenggang is the top Chinese entrant. The 25-year-old set his PB of 1:19:55 in Taicang in 2013.
Sun takes on Yang
As is the case in the men’s race, most of China’s top race walkers – including world champion and world record-holder Liu Hong, world silver medallist Lu Xiuzhi and Olympic silver medallist Qieyang Shenjie – have chosen to skip the race in Taicang in order to better prepare for the World Race Walking Team Championships in the Italian capital, leaving the 26-year-old Sun as the fastest athlete in the women’s 20km event.
Sun recorded a personal best of 1:27:36 when she beat Qieyang and Lu in 2013. This will be Sun’s fourth appearance at this meeting, having finished sixth in 2012 and third in 2015.
But Sun – who finished fourth at the IAAF World Championships Moscow 2013 – will also be looking for redemption after finishing a distant 22nd in 1:38:02 at the Chinese Olympic trials last month.
Compatriot Yang Jiayu could be Sun’s biggest threat. The junior silver medallist at the 2014 IAAF World Race Walking Cup turned 20 in February and then finished third in the Olympic trial race in 1:28:12, trimming more than eight minutes off her PB. Yang’s time puts her fifth on the 2016 world list and the promising star is keen to prove her form in Taicang.
Mexico’s Alejandra Ortega is also in good shape this season. The 21-year-old cut 89 seconds off her PB to win in Podebrady two weeks ago in 1:29:35.
Australia’s Claire Tallent, wife of Jared, is also on the entry list. After setting a PB of 1:28:53 in Taicang in 2012, she chose to hang up her racing shoes later that year. This will be the 34-year-old’s first race in more than three years.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF