BEIJING: With China’s first gold of the world championships virtually assured, the only thing for teammates Liu Hong and Lu Xiuzhi to decide was who should win it.
Liu and Lu entered the Bird’s Nest side by side at the end of the women’s 20-kilometer walk on Friday and chatted about how to finish — a duel down the final stretch?
“I think both of us would like to have the gold. We talked about whether we would have a fierce ending, then my little sister said, ‘Let’s just enter the stadium like this (side by side),'” Liu said, using a term of endearment to describe her teammate. “So not a very fierce ending.”
In the end, experience trumped youth as the veteran Liu, competing in her fourth world championships, outstepped Lu, a 21-year-old competing in her first, to win the gold in 1 hour, 27 minutes, 45 seconds. Lu took the silver, about a stride behind and with the same time.
Lyudmyla Olyanovska of Ukraine won the bronze medal, 28 seconds behind the Chinese walkers.
For the 28-year-old Liu, who set the world record in the event in June, the victory finally gave her a gold medal after winning a silver and two bronze in the previous three world championships, each time finishing behind Russian competitors.
View galleryGold medalist China's Liu Hong, left, races alongside …
Gold medalist China’s Liu Hong, left, races alongside compatriot and silver medalist Lu Xiuzhi i …
Russia pulled its race-walking team from the world championships amid a doping scandal surrounding former coach Viktor Chegin. More than 20 of Chegin’s walkers have been banned for doping in recent years, with four Olympic gold medalists sanctioned since last year alone.
With the Russians not in Beijing, China was the heavy favorite to win the gold with Liu and Lu, the former Asian record holder, in the field.
“A lot of pressure today,” Liu said. “I shouldered this responsibility and this mission — and put a lot of pressure on myself — because I broke the world record this year.”
Liu and Lu broke away from the rest of the field after about 4 kilometers and worked together to build a 26-second lead by the mid-point of the race. Olyanovksa tried to close the gap late, but the Chinese walkers picked up the pace to ensure a 1-2 finish.
Lu appeared to let up slightly down the final stretch, prompting questions about whether she had deferred to her teammate.
Lu smiled and said she was perfectly happy with second place.
“It’s my first time in the world championships, so I’m glad to have this silver,” she said. “I’m very happy and excited.”