Ines Henriques in the 50km race walk at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)
The women’s 50km race walk at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018 will be the deepest and highest quality competition in the young history of the event.
In Rome two years ago, women were allowed to compete in the 50km for the first time, but it was held as part of the men’s race and just one woman took part. At the IAAF World Championships London 2017, there was a standalone women’s 50km race, but as it was a late addition to the competition programme, just seven women ended up competing.
In Taicang, though, the women’s 50km has been on the programme from the outset and will be offering the same medals and prize money as the other senior disciplines. As a result, it has attracted 33 competitors.
World champion Inez Henriques will start as the favourite. The Portuguese veteran was close to retiring at the end of 2016, but reconsidered her options when the 50km became an accepted event. A few months later she established the first official world record for the distance with a clocking of 4:08:26. She improved on that to win the world title in London in a time of 4:05:56.
Henriques hasn’t contested a 50km race this year, but has shown promising form at other distances, clocking 1:29:15 for 20km and 2:45:51 for 35km. And with the added confidence that comes from winning a world title, Henriques will be tough to beat in Taicang.
China’s Yin Hang finished second to Henriques in London in an Asian record of 4:08:58. Three weeks after that performance, she set a 20km PB of 1:31:23, while more recently she recorded a 35km PB of 2:50:14 in Huangshan.
But Yin’s teammate Liang Rui, despite never having raced over 50km before, could be the biggest threat to Henriques. The 23-year-old won the 35km race in Huangshan in a personal best of 2:49:23 and has the fastest 20km PB (1:28:43) of all the Chinese 50km entrants.
Claire Tallent is another 50km debutante worth keeping an eye on. The gutsy Australian competed in the 20km at last year’s World Championships just 11 weeks after giving birth to her son Harvey. More recently she was disqualified at the Commonwealth Games while in a medal position, so she will be keen to atone for that.
Many other leading race walkers have tried out the 50km over the past 12 months. Julia Takacs won the Spanish title in 4:13:04 with Ainhoa Pinedo finishing second in 4:18:56. If both women are able to replicate that form, Spain would have a great chance of a team medal.
Ecuador could also pick up medals – individually and as a team – through Magaly Bonilla and Johana Ordonez.
Other athletes expected to be in contention include Guatemala’s Mayra Carolina Herrera, Ecuador’s Paola Perez, Nastassia Yatsevich of Belarus and USA's Kathleen Burnett.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF