TAICANG, China, March 1 (Xinhua) -- London Olympic champion Chen Ding withdrew halfway from the men's 20 kilometers event of 2013 Taicang IAAF Race Walking Challenge here on Friday, which saw his national teammate Li Jianbo claim the title in chilly and wet conditions.
It was the season opener for the 20-year-old Chen who clocked one hour 18 minutes and 48 seconds to claim the 20km walk title at 2012 London Olympic Games. However, the 20-year-old seemed reluctant to show his full strength. After leading for several kilometers, Chen slowed down as he was left out from the leading group and quit the race at the 10 km mark.
"I felt good today. I led in the early stage and was walking in great rhythm. But it was quite cold and with the National Games and World Championships yet to come this year, my coach and I both agreed that I need to save my energy and strength for the following competitions, which are of greater importance for me," said Chen.
The low temperature as well as continuous rain and wind did make great trouble for the walkers. Several athletes almost fell down at the wet and slippy course at the very beginning of the race.
China's Li Jianbo, a 50km specialist who finished seventh in London at that distance, clocked 1:18:52 to win the men's 20km race. The runner-up Cai Zelin, 21, who finished fourth in the 20km in London, was three seconds behind Li, while three-time Olympic medalist Jared Tallent of Australia finished third in 1:20:41.
It's the third successive year for this competition to be held in Taicang and the 28-year-old Tallent become the first foreigner that managed to break the domination of local walkers and clinched a podium finish.
"This year the competition was held earlier than the previous two editions. And Chen started his winter training session relatively later. So he is not in his best shape now," said Sun Li'an, coach of Chen. "Before the race we decided to only walk 10 kilometers and tried to find the rhythm of walking in competition."
After the race Chen will return to training and build up for the Chinese National Games, which is highlighted as the most important competitions in naitonal-level in China.
In the women's 20km event, Asian recorder holder and bronze medalist in London Olympics Qieyang Shijie was bothered by a thigh muscle injury and only finished third in 1:28:27, more than three minutes shy of her Asian record of 1:25:16 set in London.
"Because of the thigh injury, I kind of lost my energy in the last part of the race," said the 22-year-old. "The temperature was quite low today. I felt a little bit stiff in the race and could not tune up to my best form."
China's Sun Huanhuan claimed the women's title in 1:27:36, imporving her personal best by two minutes and ten seconds. Lu Xiuzhi, 19, lagged 22 seconds behind Sun and finished second. It is the first senior season for the promising walker who clocked an Asian junior record of 1:27:01 in Taicang last year and finished sixth in London Olympics.
China's other elite walkers Wang Zhen and Liu Hong, two-time defending champions in the men's and women's events respectively, did not compete in Taicang this year as they are training with famed Italian coach Sandro Damilano in Italy.