Men's podium at La Coruna, from left: runner-up Perseus Karlström, winner Álvaro Martín and Hassanine Sbai (© Luis Gómez)
Reigning European U-23 silver medallist Álvaro Martín took an emphatic win at the XXXI Gran Premio Cantones de La Coruña 2017, the Spanish leg of this year’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge, on Saturday (3).
Racing in ideal conditions, Martin became the first Spanish victor since 2007 and proved his victory at the national championships over world champion Miguel Ángel López was no fluke.
The women’s win went for Brazil’s Erica Rocha de Sena, who stamped her authority from midway.
Martín pushes from the gun
From the start Martín dictated a sub-4:00/km rhythm which only the Japanese tandem of Daisuke Matsunaga and Eiki Takahashi could manage to sustain while López travelled six seconds in arrears.
That trio went through the halfway point in 39:46 with a six-second advantage over the surprising Tunisian Hassanine Sbai, himself five seconds clear of Sweden’s Perseus Karlström with López in sixth another two seconds adrift.
To the delight of the knowledgeable crowd assembled, Martín made a decisive move some 46 minutes into the race when a 3:54 split allowed him to build a sizeable gap on the Japanese pair who walked 10 seconds behind the local hero by the 14th kilometre, with Karlström being a threatening fourth and López already out of the podium picture.
Boosted by local supporters throughout Martín extended his lead in the closing stages while first Karlström and then Sbai overtook the fading pair of Matsunaga and Takahashi. Having secured the most remarkable victory of his career, Martín slowed down over the final hundred metres to send greetings to the fans. Despite that, the 2013 European Junior 10,000m bronze medallist managed the second sub-1:20 performance of his career, only bettered by the 1:19:36 time he set last year in Rome.
Karlström was second with a 1:20:20 season’s best while Sbai got his fastest time for six years to finish 16 seconds outside his 1:20:19 PB set back in 2011. The Japanese duo had to settle for completing the top-five while López faltered over the second half to cross the finish line in 1:22:04 for 13th.
“I had a thorn on my side because I didn’t perform well at the European Cup in Podebrady (he finished 31st) some three weeks ago so today’s performance is an enormous confidence booster for the rest of the season,” said Martín, who will turn 24 on 18 June.
“I hope to be part of the Spanish team for London which will be announced next Tuesday. Once there, I don’t rule out anything as I think the medals are wide open on this occasion: the Chinese have not performed fast yet, Germany’s Christopher Linke will be dangerous, Miguel Ángel López will fight to retain his title. I look forward to competing there among the world’s finest walkers.”
Martín, who is coached by José Antonio Quintana at the High Performance Centre in Madrid, confirmed that he “slowed down in the final stages because I wanted to thank the support from the crowd. I didn’t mind the time; athletics is about places above all, not about times.”
De Sena in a class of her own
The women’s event opened at a steady 4:30/km pace and no fewer than seven athletes went through the 5km point in 22:36: Chinese pre-race favourite Wang Yingliu, Brazil’s Erica Rocha de Sena, Portugal’s Ines Henriques, Guatemala’s Mirna Ortiz and the Spanish trio of Ainhoa Pinedo, Lidia Sánchez-Puebla and Julia Takacs.
Just before midway, De Sena and Yingliu broke away from the rest of the pack and led by seven seconds clocking 44:54. The Brazilian began to step up the pace in the 13th kilometre and became the lone leader with the clock reading 58 minutes. By the 15km checkpoint De Sena was a comfortable leader after building an 18-second gap on the Chinese, herself 11 seconds clear of a triumvirate compounded by Henriques, Sánchez-Puebla and Pinedo.
The closing section witnessed how De Sena gradually strengthened her leadership while the relatively unheralded Pinedo (PB of 1:31:58) lowered bit by bit her disadvantage with Yingliu to finally catch and overtake her with some 1500 metres remaining.
At the tape, the Brazilian – a creditable seventh at the Rio Olympics last year - managed a season’s best of 1:29:16 while Pinedo set a massive career best by over two minutes in 1:29:50, six seconds faster than Yingliu. Henriques was a distant fourth 1:28 behind the victor but still seven seconds ahead of Sánchez-Puebla, who completed the top-five.
Runner-up Pinedo spent two months in Canberra early this year in her build-up for this season and that experience paid off today with her best ever performance by far. Pinedo clocked well under the qualifying standard to compete at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 in August where she will contest her first major championships at the age of 34.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF