By Sportswriter Wu Junkuan
TAICANG, Eastern China, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Since Wang Liping claimed a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, China's race walking has seen a ten-year gold drought in both Olympics and World Championships. But with the 2011 Daegu Worlds coming closer, Chinese walkers will have another chance to pursue the highest glory, and this time they are much better prepared.
Wang Hao is considered as the flag-bearer for China's race walking, which used to be proud of the high-level performance of the women walkers but bothered by poor results of the men. The 22-year-old started to make a dent in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, finishing fourth in the men's 20-kilometer race.
The shining point in Beijing was not pure luck for Wang, as he kept impressing the world with his continuously improved personal bests. After winning the silver in Beilin Worlds in 2009, the 1.80 meter walker, majoring in 20 km race, claimed the title of IAAF World Race Walking Cup in 2010 and went on to win the gold medal in 2010 Asian Games.
However, a muscle injury in the leg has force Wang out of action since the Asian Games. But the Chinese ace walker has already fully recovered and set to make an even huge breakthrough in this year's World Championships.
"I have already resumed regular training since about ten days ago," said Wang on Friday when he was watching his teammates competing in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting in Taicang, China, adding that his priority ahead of Daegu WC would be finding his best form.
And Wang Hao will not fighting alone in Daegu, as his teammates Wang Zhen and Chu Yafei have also ascended among top walkers in the world.
The raising star Wang Zhen showed a solid performance in recent events, setting a season best time of one hour, 18 minutes, 36 seconds to claim title at the 9th Memorial Mario Albisetti, a European Athletics Race Walking Permit meeting valid for points in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge, on March 21. And Chu was just one second behind him.
Wang Zhen's amazing performance was continuing. After beating world famous walkers like third-finisher in Beijing Games Jared Tallent and bronze medalist in 2009 worlds Eder Sanchez, Wang Zhen renewed the season best time on Friday with a title-winning time of 1:18:30.
"Winning here is not a big deal and the real big deal is winning the gold in World Championships or Olympic Games," said Wang Zhen after the race. Daegu will be the first championships experience for Wang Zhen, and the 21-year-old chose to keep a low profile.
"I will not think too much about the World Championships. What I need to do for now is keeping training and preparing for it," said a modest Wang Zhen.
Chu Yafei also played down his World Championships expectation, setting a top-eight finish as his goal. But Wang Hao is obviously more confident and ambitious.
"We have several high level walkers in the men's 20km events, all with a very fast time," said Wang Hao. "Such group dvantage may be beneficial for us when we face foreign walking elites, especially those Russians, in the World Championships."
Led by Liu Hong, the bronze-winner in 2009 World Championships, China will also be very competitive in the women's 20km race in Daegu. The 23-year-old clocked 1:27:17 to crown the women's event on Friday, equaling her person best set in 2008 Beijing Games where she finished fourth.
"I earned a bronze medal in the 2009 Berlin worlds, and I still expect a podium finish in Daegu. The gold will be my ultimate goal," said the 2006 World Junior champion.
Men's 50 km race used to be a weakpoint for China, with no medal ever being taken in top international tournaments. But Si Tianfeng is giving new hope for the country. The 26-year-old clocked a season-best time of 3:38:48 to lead a podium-sweep performance of the hosts in the 2011 IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Taicang on Sunday.
"My confidence has been boosted a lot with this victory. Now I believe I am amony the best walkers in the world," said the 26-year-old Si, whose result turns out to be the best ever-achieved by Chinese walkers since the 2005 National Games.
"Chinese walkers has never win a medal in the World Championships in this event. And I think we have a very good chance to change it in Daegu," added the 2011 Asian Games gold medallist.
China's fast progress in race walking is a reason of the Italian walking guru Sandro Damilano who is now playing an important part in the Chinese race walking coaching team. Damilano is a successful coach with his pupils collect 46 Olympic, World and European medals. The Chinese Athletics Federation hired him to polish techniques for the Chinese walkers, and the Italian has done quite a good job so far. When Damilano chose to train Zhen Wang two years ago, he was not considered among the best walkers in China.
"I am very happy with the progress of the athletes. They have showed their ability. Wang Zhen, for example is one of the best in the world in terms of technique," said Damilano. "China is much stronger now because there are four or five Chinese walkers potential to win in Daegue. The problem is not to improve the time, but to maintain the condition for Championships."
Damilano's opinion was also shared by Chinese athletic head coach Feng Shuyong, who expressed his concern about the athletes' ability to maintain their shape.
"Chinese walkers have showed a strong performance recently. But we should not be over-optimistic, as instability has been a haunting problem that often bothered Chinese athletes in international tournaments," said a prudent Feng. "Young walkers such as Wang Zhen are lack of experience in big events, maintenance should be the main point we need to work on, especially on the psychologic level."