Liu Hong on her way to breaking the world 50km race walk world record in Huangshan (© AFP / Getty Images)
Liu Hong of China broke the world record* in the 50km race walk on Saturday (9), clocking 3:59:15 at the Chinese Race Walk Grand Prix in Huangshan to become the first woman to break the four-hour barrier in the event.
Liu, the 2016 Olympic champion over 20km, clipped more than five minutes from the previous record of 4:04:36 set by China's Liang Rui at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships in Taicang last year.
Unheralded Li Maocuo also dipped under the previous record, clocking 4:03:51 after slashing more than 11 minutes from her previous best of 4:13:04 set in Chifeng last year.
But the day clearly belonged to the 31-year-old Liu, who was making her debut over the distance in just her third race since returning to competition after taking a two-year break for maternity leave.
After covering the opening two-kilometre lap in 10:02, Liu and Li set off on a brisk clip, together knocking off subsequent 2km circuits in the 9:36-9:45 range through 16 kilometres. At that point, Li, who was seventh at the World Race Walking Team Championships last year, made the first move of the race to build a slight gap on Liu over the next two laps. But Liu covered it by the 20th kilometre and bided her time before taking the lead for good in kilometre 40. She closed with a 9:06 final lap, the fastest of the race.
Prior to moving up in distance, Liu raced to world titles in 2011 and 2015 before taking her Olympic title in Rio. She holds the world record in the event, a 1:24:38 performance set in La Coruna, Spain in 2015.
The morning's races also doubled as the national 50km race walking championships and the qualifying competition for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
May Faying was a distant third in 4:07:30, the fifth fastest performance of all time. Further back, Liang, who watched her global record beaten, was a distant seventh in 4:19:34.
Wang Qin, the 2018 Asian Games silver medallist, won the men's race in 3:38:02, more than three minutes clear of Niu Wenbin, who clocked 3:41:04. Luo Yadong was third in 3:41.15. All three produced personal bests.
The IAAF began recognising women's world records over the 50km distance in 2017.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
* subject to the standard ratification procedures