BEIJING (Reuters) - China picked up a first gold medal at their home world athletics championships when Liu Hong led Lu Xiuzhi across the line after the duo blew away the field in the women’s 20 kilometer walk on Friday.
Both were given a rapturous reception as Liu crossed the line in the iconic Bird’s Nest Stadium in a time of one hour 27 minutes and 45 seconds, fractionally ahead of compatriot Lu, with the duo having matched strides throughout the race.
The victory was also a first world championship gold for world record-holder Liu, having sandwiched a silver in 2011 between two bronzes in 2009 and 2013.
“I felt a lot of pressure. China hadn’t yet won a gold medal in this championships in the previous days and everybody was waiting for it,” Liu told reporters.
”I was well prepared. I have been training hard and I hoped that I could make it.
”I had three world medals before and now I finally got the gold. I can go now as a world champion to the Olympic Games in Brazil and this gives me confidence.
“Obviously in its hard to predict what will happen, the Russians were not here, but I hope that we will take the gold at the Olympics.”
Liu and Lu entered the stadium in conversation and embraced after the line before going on a lap of honor together.
“We said to each other that we should keep our rhythm in case any of us was expelled,” Lu told Xinhua of the discussion.
The pair led upon exiting the stadium and although Anezka Drahotova kept pace for the first 5km, the Czech was inevitably dropped as she struggled to keep up on another scorching morning in the Chinese capital.
The Chinese duo stretched their lead to 26 seconds at the halfway stage as they begun lapping back markers on the 1km course loop.
Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Olyanovska had cut the deficit to 21 seconds after 15km but the margin was too big and she settled for bronze in 1:28:13.
Italian Eleonora Giorgi had been pushing for the bronze medal before being disqualified over the closing 5km.
Portuguese Ana Cabecinha was fourth and Antonella Palmisano of Italy fifth.
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Ian Ransom