THIS WAS JUST the second women’s 50K at the World Championships—and quite possibly the last, as changes in distance seem to be in the works. At 11:30pm 23 women answered the call and lined up with 46 men for the concurrent start of the race. Their assignment—walk 25 loops of 2000m in absolutely brutal steambath conditions. And to prove, as a side issue, that they’re as tough and gritty and determined as their male counterparts. Some proved even tougher, grittier, more determined.
China has embraced its women walkers as national treasures—and for very good reason. Rui Lang (4:23:26) and Maocuo Li (4:26:40) blasted out to a 1-2 finish with the bronze going to Italy’s Eleonora Anna Giorgi (4:29:13), as 17 of the 23 starters finished their assigned missions, and let it be known that the medalists’ performances would have ranked them 18th, 21st and 23rd, in the men’s event.
The 50K event is obviously long but the challenge of it all has been increasingly accepted by the women. Just 7 competed at the London ’17 debut of the event and only 4 finished under the designated time limit. This time around, the entry list more than tripled and was an indicator of the event’s growing global embrace. Trouble is, too many of the bigwigs are repeating the old mantra that the event continues to “lack status.”
Not, however, in China. In addition to the 1-2 slam, Faying Ma placed 5th in 4:34:56, 1:18 back of Ukraine’s 4th-placer Olena Sobchuk. The Chinese walkers dominated the lead pack through 10K (56:22), 20K (1:52:27), 30K (2:48:02) and 40K (3:45:19) and brought it home with style and grace that belied the atmospherics of it all. “My coach told me to start slowly and use the [icepacks which were regularly distributed to all the racers],” said Liang. “I think it helped a lot.” Said Giorgi, “The time was not important today. I felt like a warrior.”
Portugal’s Inês Henriques had won that London debut event in 4:05:56 and hoped to stage a repeat—but it just wasn’t to be. In the third hour of Sunday morning, Doha’s steam finally got to her and she called it a long day’s night after 36K. She’d long been walking in the lead pack before bailing out.
America’s Katie Burnett had turned in a 4th-place finish in ’17—just 1:02 off an invitation to the podium. This time around, the Washington Stater stayed strong—and in the top 10 through 28K in 2:36:50. And then it all caved in around her—her single-K splits, which had ranged from 5:29 to 5:47, suddenly hit the wall, climbing into the 7s and more. Undaunted, Burnett at last regained her stride with a concluding 6:58 kilometer and a 17th-place 5:23:05.
Kladiya Afanasyeva had lowered the all-time to 3:58:08 earlier this year, but like many of her fellow Russians wasn’t cleared for international competition. Her time wasn’t made with suitable international-caliber judges, so won’t be ratified as the WR. That honor has gone to another Chinese star, Hong Liu, at 3:59:15, but here she opted for the 20K instead.
A half-dozen women have dipped under the 4:10 mark this year, representing major progress, but unless the outlook suddenly changes, their WC 50K aspirations will have reached the finish line, too.
WC WOMEN’S 50K WALK
(September 28–29; 5K loop) (temperature 88–86F/31–30C; humidity 74–70%)
1. Rui Liang (Chn) 4:23:26
(27:47, 27:32 [55:19], 26:54 [1:22:13], 26:38 [1:48:51], 26:13 [2:15:04], 25:50 [2:40:54], 25:21 [3:06:15], 25:40 [3:31:55], 25:48 [3:57:43], 25:43) (2:15:04/2:08:22);
2. Maocuo Li (Chn) 4:26:40
3. Eleonora Giorgi (Ita) 4:29:13
4. Olena Sobchuk (Ukr) 4:33:38
5. Faying Ma (Chn) 4:34:56
6. Khrystyna Yudkina (Ukr) 4:36:00
7. Magaly Bonilla (Ecu) 4:37:03
8. Julia Takács (Spa) 4:38:20
9. Paola Pérez (Ecu) 4:38:54;
10. Mar Juárez (Spa) 4:39:28;
11. Masumi Fuchise (Jpn) 4:41:02;
12. Nastassia Yatsevich (Blr) 4:44:01;
13. Nadzeya Darazhuk (Blr) 4:47:26;
14. Aggelikí Makrí (Gre) 4:54:09;
15. Mara Ribeiro (Por) 4:58:44;
16. Elianay Pereira (Bra) 5:11:26;
17. Katie Burnett (US) 5:23:05;
… dnf—Ivana Renić (Cro), Mariavittoria Becchetti (Ita), Nicole Colombi (Ita), Inês Henriques (Por), Mária Czaková (Svk), Valentyna Myronchuk (Ukr).
(leader splits: Li 27:46; Giorgi 55:18; Li 1:22:13; Liang 1:48:51, 2:15:04, 2:40:54, 3:06:15, 3:31:55, 3:57:43) ◻︎