Dane Bird-Smith (left) and Perseus Karlstrom (centre) in action in Wuzhong (© Nicola Maggio)
Australia’s Dane Bird-Smith and China’s Qieyang Shijie both rallied to take overall individual victories at the ‘Around Taihu’ International Race Walking Multi-Day Competition in Wuzhong, a four-day event that concluded on Wednesday (28).
First launched in 2013, the competition includes four stages of contests that are held in different scenic areas – one stage each day in four straight days. The beautiful scenery alongside the courses and the high prize money have attracted more and more world top race walkers, who can not only compete individually but also form a national or international team to vie for the team prize.
Bird-Smith, the Olympic 20km race walk bronze medallist, shrugged off a five-second deficit in the overall standings to turn the tables on Colombia’s Eider Arevalo as he clocked 40:36 to win the 10km last stage in Dongshan on Wednesday.
“Today was extremely tough,” said the 24-year-old, who charged for a sole lead after two kilometers and never looked back before hitting the finish. “I knew that everybody was going to be tired, so I just made a gamble and went hard from the start. And it paid off. I managed to just keep myself going and stay strong all the way to the finish.
“My strategy today was to push as hard as I can at the start and make sure I have a big enough gap that he (Arevalo) could not catch me up,” added Bird-Smith.
“I had a little bit of time-off after the Olympic Games and I was a little tired coming here. But I am still fit and still strong and for me it is just a very good challenge so I am very happy with how I win.”
Bird-Smith finished second in the 20km stage on the first day and in the 10km on the second day before he outraced Arevalo in a breath-taking home stretch to win the 10.5km third stage.
He claimed the individual title with an overall time of 3:27:59, while Arevalo lagged 1:31 behind to finish second. Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom, winner of the 20km stage, took third place in 3:30:07.
It was Bird-Smith’s fourth appearance in Wuzhong, but his first overall victory after finishing as the runner-up twice in a row in the previous two years.
“The first year when I came here, I did two days and then I had to stop,” he said. “The second year I fought hard and I finished in second place behind Chen Ding, and last year I was second behind Wang Zhen. Finally I have won this competition.
“My philosophy in racing and in life is that you never get better unless you challenge the best,” he added. “The best of the best are in China. Chen Ding, Wang Zhen and Cai Zelin are the best in the world. If I want to get better, I have to race against them and learn from them. That's why I am here.”
Olympic champion Wang and Olympic silver medallist Cai both withdrew from the competition due to lack of training.
“I thought I would get the opportunity to race against Cai Zelin and Wang Zhen,” said Bird-Smith. “I look up to them as my rivals and I want to compete against them all the time. So it is unfortunate that they are in resting, but it’s OK. I am still having fun here.”
China’s 2012 Olympic silver medallist Qieyang Shijie came back from a 15-second deficit to turn the tables on Wednesday.
The 25-year-old clocked a winning time of 43:54 on the hilly route between Dongshan and Luxiang in what was her third consecutive victory after a sloppy start in the first stage where she only finished fourth, more than two minutes behind winner Nie Jingjing.
“Lagging 15 seconds behind is no pressure for me,” said Qieyang, who took the overall victory with a cumulative time of 3:49:23. “I competed here last year and I am familiar with the course. I know where to speed up and where I can pull away from the others. I am good at walking on hilly courses and I was well prepared.”
Qieyang’s teammate Nie, who stayed on top of the standings after the first three stages, finished second in 3:50:37, followed by Australia’s Regan Lamble in 3:51:29.
“The victory here is something of a consolation for me as I was not satisfied with my performance in Rio, where I was aiming to win a medal,” said Qieyang, who finished fifth in Rio. “I only rested for a few days after the Olympic Games and have been preparing for this competition ever since.
“This is a very special competition,” she added. “Both the men and women start together, so during the race I can try to chase the men one after another to keep my pace, although I was pretty tired already.”
Spearheaded by Qieyang and Nie, China took a convincing victory in the team contest, while the men’s team gold went to ‘The Gringos’ which included Karlstrom, Ecuador’s Andres Chocho, Mexico’s Ever Palma, and Caio Bonfim of Brazil.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF