Inside the Games
China took full advantage of Russia’s enforced absence from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Race Walking Team Championships in Rome as they ended the first day with golds in both the men’s and women’s 20 kilometre events.
On a course partially shaded by the Colosseum, victories from the two race favourites Wang Zhen, the 2012 men’s champion and double world silver medallist, and women’s world record holder and double world champion Liu Hong, established their country as the most successful in the competition’s history with 18 gold medals.
It was a day of high drama – and disappointment – for home hope Eleonora Giorgi as she was disqualified for lifting just as she was about the enter the stadium while contesting second place with the eventual silver medallist, Maria Guadeloupe Gonzalez.
The Mexican finished with a national and area record of 1:26.17, but there was never any doubt from virtually the first steps that victory would go to the world champion – even if she had claimed a recent cold had robbed her of peak fitness.
The 28-year-old Liu was never headed, and finished in 1:25.59, the second fastest time ever in this competition and just 17 seconds off the Championship record.
She will now seek to complete her grand slam of titles with an Olympic gold in Rio.
Liu’s compatriot Qieyang Shenjie took third place in 1:26.49, despite suffering a heavy fall in the second half of the race after tripping on a cone while turning.
Fourth place went to Brazil’s Erica De Sena in an area record of 1:27.18, with popular 35-year-old Elisa Rigaudo, the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, going some way towards making up for the home disappointment of Giorgi as she matched her previous best placing of fifth – back in 2004 – by finishing in 1:28.03.
“I was always in front but I felt a bit nervous because I didn’t know if the others had more energy or if their rhythm could speed up,” said Liu.
“I had to keep turning to check them and keep up my speed.”
Wang’s compatriot Cai Zelin, the 2014 silver medallist, led the men’s race through the halfway point in 40.29.
By this point Spain’s world champion Miguel Angel Lopez was back in 37th place, 22 seconds adrift of the leaders.