In La Coruna a few months ago, Glenda Morejon produced one of the biggest breakthrough performances of the year.
In her first race over 20km, the Ecuadorian race walker sped to victory in 1:25:29 – the fastest time ever by an U20 athlete – to audaciously defeat a field that included Olympic champion and world record-holder Liu Hong and world champion Yang Jiayu in one of the best races ever in terms of depth.
Now the 19-year-old wants to do it all again in Doha.
The precocious world U18 champion has talent by the bucket load, but the conditions in Doha will be a lot tougher than in La Coruna. Not only will the temperatures be higher, the field will be stronger and the overall experience could be more daunting.
Should she, quite literally, take all that in her stride, Morejon could become the youngest women’s world 20km race walk champion in history and Ecuador’s first world medallist in a women’s event. She could also become the first athlete with a 2000 birth year to win a senior global title.
Yang won’t want to surrender her title without a fight, though, and the 23-year-old will be out for revenge. Her triumph in London was relatively unexpected at the time, but she has since backed it up with victory at the 2017 National Games and 2018 Asian Games, a third-place finish at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018, and a 1:25:34 PB to finish second in la Coruna behind Morejon earlier this year.
Chinese team-mate Liu is another huge threat. Before her maternity break in 2017-2018, she was the dominant force in the event, setting a world record of 1:24:38 in 2015 before going on to win her second world title later that year and then taking Olympic gold in 2016.
The 32-year-old has made a sensational return to competition this year. On her debut at 50km, she set a world record of 3:59:15 in Huangshan in March. Three months later, she finished third in La Coruna in 1:25:56, the third-fastest time of her career.
Qieyang Shinjie is another Chinese race walker for the big occasion. The 2012 Olympic silver medallist clocked a season’s best of 1:25:37 in Huangshan earlier this year before going on to place fourth in La Coruna.
Despite the strength and popularity of race walking in South America, no woman from that continent has ever won a medal in a race walking event at the IAAF World Championships. That could change in Doha, though.
Brazil’s Erica de Sena narrowly missed out on a medal in London two years ago but took some consolation from setting a South American record of 1:26:59. Her best this year, 1:27:38, is fairly close to that mark but she finished third at the recent Pan-American Games in Lima.
Sandra Arenas seems to be rounding into form at the right time. She broke her own Colombian record with 1:28:03 to win the Pan-American title last month and will be keen to improve on her fifth-place finish in London two years ago.
Peru’s Kimberley Garcia is another South American race walker who has consistently performed well at recent major championships.
She may have finished a distant 11th at the European Cup earlier this year, but European champion Maria Perez shouldn’t be discounted. She convincingly won the Spanish 20km title back in March and more recently won the national 10,000m title earlier this month.
Italy’s world and European bronze medallist Antonella Palmisano has had just one competitive outing this year but it resulted in a DNF. She was at a loss to explain that performance, though, as her training had been going well. If she is anywhere near her best in Doha, she should feature among the leading pack.
Morejon isn’t the only U20 athlete in the field. Australian 10,000m champion Katie Hayward and European U20 champion Meryem Bekmez of Turkey will both be making their senior global championships 20km debut.
Other contenders include European Cup winner Zivile Vaiciukeviciute of Lithuania, Spain’s Laura Garcia-Caro and Japanese duo Kumiko Okada and Nanako Fujii.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF