Olympic champ Chen Ding set to lead Chinese race walkers in Rio

Huangshan (China), March 5 (IANS) Olympic champion Chen Ding almost secured a berth in China’s team for the Rio Olympic Games by finishing second in the national race walking qualifier here on Saturday.

With a temperature up to 24 degrees centigrade, Wang Zhen, the runner-up of the World Championships in Beijing 2015, led almost half way to win the race in an hour, 19 minutes and 12 seconds, reports Xinhua.

Cai Zelin, who was fourth in the London Games 2012, placed third in the qualifier to win a big chance in booking the other spot for Rio.

The reigning Olympic champion couldn’t help shedding tears after crossing the finish line.

“To be honest, I was under huge pressure. I have been through ups and downs in the past four years. It’s not easy,” he said.

Chen became the first male race walker to win an Olympic gold medal for China in the 20km event on August 5, 2012, his 20th birthday. However, he finished ninth in the Beijing Worlds last year and later suffered injuries in the winter training session.

“I won the race in the London Olympics, but for this year, my dream was to compete in the Rio Games. I am glad I made it today,” he said. “I hope I can be lucky again this August.”

Wang, the bronze medallist in London, showed a better form by finishing the race 20 seconds ahead of Chen.

“It will be my second time to compete in an Olympic Games, and might also be my last attempt,” said the 24-year-old. “I would certainly try all my best in Rio.”

Cai sustained injury in his left shoulder a month ago and thus felt grateful for grabbing the third place. Facing a great challenge from Wang Kaihua, 22, who overtook him with three kilometres to go, Cai regained his speed in the final one-kilometre lap to beat Wang to fourth by three seconds.

Li Tianlei came home as a remote fifth finisher in 1:21:39.

“It was the most important race in my career, and also the most difficult one,” said the 24-year-old Cai. “I want to compete in the Olympics and so do the others. I am very happy that I never gave up and kept pushing myself during the race.”

According to the qualifying rules set by the Chinese Athletics Association, the top five finishers in Huangshan will be included in a primary selection list. Both the qualifying results and previous performance in international level meets will be taken into consideration in selecting the final Olympic team.

Therefore, an Olympic berth is almost a certainty for both Chen and Wang Zhen, while Cai would have a bigger chance to compete in Rio and Wang Kaihua would be an alternative, which means China will probably send the same trio to the Rio Games as they did in London four years ago.

“I hope we could do even better than in London this time,” said Cai.

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