China's Liu Hong wins the 20km race walk (© Getty Images)
China’s world bronze medallist Liu Hong and Guatemala’s Olympic silver medallist Erick Barrondo captured respective 20km victories in 1:27:39 and 1:21:14 at the ‘28th Gran Premio Cantones de Marcha’, the Spanish leg in the 2014 IAAF Race Walking Challenge, on Saturday (31).
On a pleasant day that was ideal for endurance events, with the thermometer reading about 15°C during the races, they succeeded in different ways.
While 22-year-old Barrondo got the better of Japan’s Eiki Takahashi by just five seconds (1:21:14 vs 1:21:19), 26-year-old Liu was an overwhelming victor as she built a massive 2:17 advantage over her closest pursuer, Guatemala’s Mirna Ortiz, her winning time being a world-class 1:27:39.
Liu waits in the first half, walks away in the second
The women’s competition kicked off with Spain’s Julia Takacs taking an early lead, injecting a brisk pace. The former European under-23 silver medallist went through the first kilometre alone at the front but she was soon joined by Portugal’s defending champion Ines Henriques.
The duo surprisingly continued to lead by the 5km point in a fine 22:06 while the hot favourite Liu travelled way back in third, no less than 33 seconds adrift of the leaders but 16 seconds ahead of a nine-woman group comprising Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi, Portugal’s Ana Cabecinha and Ortiz among others.
Tackacs – searching for a berth in the Spanish team for the European Championships to be held in Zurich this August – kept on pushing hard alongside Henriques to reach the halfway point in 44:20. Although Liu was still 15 seconds in arrears by then, the Chinese star was head and shoulders clear of Giorgi, Cabecinha and Ortiz.
The third quarter of the event proved to be decisive as Liu took command of the race from the 12th kilometre onwards while Takacs dropped out the event and Henriques began to falter. With 5km remaining, (1:06:20) Liu’s margin on Cabecinha had grown to 1:04, while the Portuguese walked seven seconds ahead of Giorgi and 19 over Ortiz.
However, the closing stages changed the minor places on the podium since Ortiz – who is Erick Barrondo’s wife – managed to overtake Giorgi and Cabecinha to finally romp home in second with her fourth-fastest time of 1:29.56,l four seconds clear of the Italian record-holder and 16 on Cabecinha while Henriques paid for her early efforts and had to settle for fourth, more than three minutes adrift of Liu.
Liu, the 2014 IAAF Race Walking Challenge winner
At the top, Liu broke the tape in 1:27:39 to secure her victory in this year’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge. The three-time World Championships medallist (bronze in 2009 and 2013, silver in 2011) added today 12 points to her tally for an overall score of 34 points which makes her unreachable for her closest chasers in the guise of Giorgi (23) and Cabecinha (22) as there are only two events remaining, the African and the European Championships.
The winner’s impressive splits (5km sections) were: 22:39/21:56/21:45/21:19, the two halves being 44:35/43:04.
Liu expressed her satisfaction for both the La Coruna win and her overall success in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge and looked forward to finally winning a gold medal at a major championship.
Barrondo narrowly beats Takahashi
Erick Barrondo made a piece of history at the London Olympics Games two years ago when he became the first Guatemalan person to win an Olympic medal – of any colour, at any sport. Last year at the Moscow World Champinoships, he tried to improve on his London silver medal but he was disqualified some 2km home for lifting.
It seems that the Guatemalan ace – who will turn 23 on 14 June – opted for more conservative tactics in La Coruna as he was joined by no fewer than 21 athletes at the halfway section, which was covered in a modest 41:17.
Barrondo was in ninth place at that point, a couple of seconds behind the leaders; among them the Japanese pair of Eiki Takahashi and Isamu Fujisawa, Spain’s local hero Miguel Angel Lopez and Germany’s Hagen Pohle.
There were no major changes over the 10-15km section, although the leading group whittled down to 12 men, Norway’s Erik Tysse the most renowned casualty.
The fireworks started about the 15.5km point when Australia’s defending champion Jarred Tallent and eventual winner Barrondo injected a much brisker rhythm. While Tallent couldn’t live with that kind of pace for long, Barrondo shared the lead with Takahashi and they travelled virtually even for much of the final 3km while the surprise Brazilian Caio Oliveira De Sena Bonfim – 16th at the recent IAAF World Race Walking Cup – had moved into third.
Barrondo’s late burst of speed gave him a five-second win over Takahashi, 1:21:14 to 1:21:19, with Bonfirm a further five seconds behind.
After the World Race Walking Cup held in Taicang earlier this month, Barrondo – along with the rest of the Guatemalan National team – had travelled to the Polish city of Spala for a three-week training camp under the guidance of his Polish coach Bohdan Bulakoski and it seems the training camp has been profitable for the Guatemalan ace.
To give an idea of the in-depth classy field assembled in La Coruna, the in-form Tallent and Lopez finished outside the top 10.
The IAAF Race Walking Challenge standings remain headed by Ukraine’s World Race Walking Cup winner Ruslan Dmytrenko (26 points) followed by Tallent (23) and China’s Cai Zelin (21).
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Erik Barrondo (GUA) 1:21:14
2 Eiki Takahashi (JPN) 1:21:19
3 Caio Bonfim (BRA) 1:21:24
4 Eider Arevalo (COL) 1:21:28
5 Isamu Fujisawa (JPN) 1:21:38
6 Dane Bird-Smith (AUS) 1:21:42
7 Hagen Phole (GER) 1:21:47
8 Inaki Gomez (CAN) 1:21:52
9 Evan Dunfee (CAN) 1:21:52
10 Hirooki Arai (JPN) 1:22:07
1 Liu Hong (CHN) 1:27:58
2 Mirna Ortiz (GUA) 1:29:56
3 Eleonora Giorgi (ITA) 1:30:00
4 Ana Cabecinha (POR) 1:30:12
5 Ines Henriques (POR) 1:30:12
6 Mayra Carolina Herrera (GUA) 1:31:19
7 Laura Reynolds (IRL) 1:31:57
8 Beatriz Pascual (ESP) 1:32:17
9 Sandra Arenas (COL) 1:32:30
10 Ainhoa Pinedo (ESP) 1:32:59