Glenda Morejon leads the girls' 5000m race walk at the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017 (© Getty Images)
Glenda Morejon became only the second Ecuadorian to win a world U18 title when she took the win in the girls' 5000m race walk on Saturday morning in Nairobi.
Morejon entered the competition as the fastest in the world, but with her lack of international experience, there might have been doubt as to whether she was the favourite. But her sensible tactical performance took her to a historic win in a time of 22:32.30.
It was a close call, however, as the race was not decided until the final few metres. Meryem Bekmez of Turkey finished half a stride behind in 22:32.79 in what was the closest race walk finish in World U18 Championships history. Both gold and silver medallists won the first ever medals for their countries at any global championship in female race walking events.
The bronze went to Elvira Khasanova, competing as neutral athlete. Khasanova was not far behind the top two, either, finishing in 22:35.72.
Kenya's Lenah Nanjala shot into the lead before the race walkers completed their first lap, but was soon caught by the pack. Nobody was willing to make an early move after that, and the leading group, featuring all the main favourites, continued at a steady pace. One kilometre was reached in 4:35.76 and two kilometres in 9:17.81, with more than a dozen athletes still together at that point.
China’s Zhang Xiaole was the first to inject more pace into the proceedings during the third kilometre, the result being the shrinking of the leading group to just five race walkers. Morejon assumed the pacing duties before the three-kilometre mark was reached, leading the small pack including Zhang, Bekmez and the two neutral athletes: Khasanova and Ekaterina Gorshenina.
The pace got progressively faster. After a third kilometre of 4:35, the fourth took just 4:24. First Gorshenina, then Zhang began to lose contact with the leaders. With three girls now comfortably ahead in the medal positions, only the order of the top three was still in doubt.
The race went down to the wire. The three leaders were still together half a lap before the finish line. Khasanova was the first to let go on the curve. Morejon and Bekmez entered the home straight neck and neck, and it remained that way for the majority of the final 100 metres. It was only in the final 10 metres that Morejon finally pulled away slightly, crossing the line in 22:32.30, with the final kilometre taking just 4:15.
Bekmez followed just 0.49 seconds later, and Khasanova was only 3.42 in arrears.
What made Khasanova's medal all the more impressive is that she only switched to race walking last year, having previously been a shooter.
The race for fourth almost ended in a photo-finish. As Zhang started to fade, Gorshenina nearly caught her, but in the end had to be content with fifth place in 23:05.77, just 0.16 behind the Chinese athlete.
Pawel Jackowski for the IAAF