China’s Lu Xiuzhi stormed ahead to win the women’s 20km with an Asian record at the Chinese Race Walk Grand Prix which concluded on Saturday (21) in Beijing.
Leading from the start of the race, the 21-year-old Lu, who finished sixth at the 2012 Olympics while still a junior, trimmed almost two minutes from her previous personal best of 1:27:01 and registered a winning time of 1:25:12 on Friday.
In doing so, she took four seconds off the Asian record of 1:25:16 set by China’s Qieyang Shenjie when taking the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics.
Lu's time is just 10 seconds shy of the world record. Of record-ratifiable marks, it is the third-fastest time in history.
“I trained hard in the winter and have been well prepared for the race, so I was very confident and was ready to improve my PB,” said Lu, the Asian Games champion. “But I really did not expect that I would break the Asian record today. Before the race I just wanted to walk faster than 1:26:30.”
Lu spurted out to take the leading position with three other race walkers in the early stages of the race. After 6km, only Lu and Duan Dandan, winner of the junior 10km at the 2014 IAAF World Race Walking Cup, were left in the leading group. And after 10km, Lu enjoyed a sole lead following Duan’s withdrawal.
Lu threw off her cap after 12km and never looked back to further extend her advantage. By the time she passed the 16km mark, Lu was already two minutes ahead of the second-placed Liu Hong, the three-time World Championships medallist.
“During the race my coach told me that I had the chance to break the record and I was feeling quite good,” said Lu. “So I decided to speed up and give it a try.”
She eventually won by a margin of 2:27. Bothered by a muscle injury in her left leg, Liu finished second in 1:27:39 while Nie Jingjing finished third with a personal best of 1:27:51. Qieyang was fourth in 1:28:37.
Wang’s win a confidence boost ahead of Beijing
In a race which featured three of the top four finishers from the 2012 Olympics, the men’s 20km race was won by Olympic bronze medallist Wang Zhen in 1:19:29.
Known for taking the early lead in races, Wang chose a different strategy on Friday as he patiently hid in the chasing group for the first 10km before speeding up to pace the race and leading all the way to the finishing line.
“The plan was to stay low and wait until 15km, and push for victory in the final five,” said Wang. “But I felt quite good after 10km so I decided to take the moment and went out.
“I usually walked well from 10 to 15km as I did today,” he added. “But in the last five kilometres I felt a little exhausted. I think I still need to work hard on my daily training.
“At the up-coming World Championships our main rivals will be walkers from Russia and Japan, and don’t forget (Yohann) Diniz of France,” Wang said. “I know Diniz and Japan's Yusuke Suzuki broke the world record recently, but I believe I have the ability to win in Beijing.”
Wang’s ambition was echoed by his Italian coach Sandro Damilano who believes Wang will stand a big chance if he can avoid injury problems.
“Suzuki and Diniz are in very good condition,” said Damilano. “I think that Wang is at the same level. It is not easy because it is the World Championships but Wang has all the capabilities to win.”
Unlike the ambitious Wang, Olympic champion Chen Ding is still struggling to get used to the one-kilometre laps outside of the Bird’s Nest Stadium which will be used for the 20km events during the IAAF World Championships in August.
“It is the second time for me to race on a one-kilometre course and I am still trying to get used to it,” said Chen, who finished third in 1:21:11, 58 seconds behind runner-up Cai Zelin. “Racing on such a course means you have to walk through more turns during which you need to slow down first and then speed up again. That frequent change of speed is difficult for me.”
The men’s 50km event on Saturday was held on a 2km course and Yu Wei won with a world-leading time of 3:46:57, taking almost five minutes off his personal best.
Zhang Lin, the seventh-place finisher at the 2014 World Race Walking Cup, finished second with a PB of 3:47:11, while National Games champion Wu Qianlong also improved his PB by more than three minutes to finish third in 3:47:35.
In fact, nine of the top 10 finishers – all of whom dipped below the four-hour barrier – set personal bests.
This competition served as a qualifying event for the IAAF World Championships. But according to Chinese Athletics Association vice president Du Zhaocai, the team selection will not be merely based on the results of this competition. The walkers’ international-level performances in recent years will also be considered when deciding the national team.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF